Robert Duffy, CEO of Marc Jacobs, speaks to us about the new Brian Bowen-Smith book depicting the men and women working for the company
Marc Jacobs went all subdued for his show after party with a restrained book party at Bookmarc, his new bookstore venture where he celebrated the launch of a collaborative effort with photographer Brian Bowen-Smith who photographed many people who work for Marc Jacobs. Bowen-Smith travelled around Marc Jacobs stores photographing the 'kids' that work there in their own chosen setting. The portraits are about as far away from employee mugshots as you can get as each of them are individual and personal to each member of what Robert Duffy, CEO of Marc Jacobs, refers to as 'family'. Bowen-Smith captures their personality, style as well as state of mind in the book and on appearance, a book that could seem like a branding exercise is really a hardback thank you to this 'family' that contribute to Marc Jacobs' success in-store and now online. We spoke to Duffy at the Palais Royale book signing event about the project, employee loyalty and the newly relaunched e-commerce website. Duffy mentioned that the only two things he has ever bought online is a dog and an apartment which probably goes a long way to explaining the company's unique approach to the site.
Dazed Digital: How did you meet Brian Bowen-Smith?
Robert Duffy: I met him when he was 18, just out of school and he was a gymnast modeling for Bruce Weber. We trained together in the gym and became very good friends, and because of my partnership with Marc, he used to help me out with the shows.
DD: How did the project for the book begin?
Robert Duffy: Some of those t-shirts we did for skin cancer, I asked Brian to start doing that. The first one I asked was J-Lo or Julianne More I think. We were shooting it in Savannah and then some of the kids in our store in Savannah asked Bryan to take pictures of them as they were inspiring actors and needed head shots. So wherever he would go to photograph these celebrities (we've shot over 100 celebrities for these t-shirts), he'd end up taking pictures of the kids in the store. Finally he showed them to me and I said 'It's too bad you didn't get them the way they really dress, you're getting them the way they want to be presented'.That started him thinking: 'Let's get the kids in a natural setting'. The kids picked their settings and picked what they wore.
DD: Do you encourage people that work for you to have their own thing going on - like acting, singing etc...
Robert Duffy: I think we allow that to be. We like it. I like having artists. I like having actors - if I think of the people that have come out of our company and have gone onto be famous. I love supporting that and think it's really cool. I mean, Tom Ford used to work for us! A lot of actors and actresses also used to work for us.
DD: Would you say that you really nurture a 'family' of people at Marc Jacobs despite the size of it?
Robert Duffy: We started with seven people in 1984 and five of them are still here - one died and the other won the lottery! She won like $200 million! She's definitely living the good life now!
DD: Tell us a little bit about the website which has just recently launched as it's a bit different from your e-commerce norm.
Robert Duffy: A lot of the people in the book are on the website. They're these iconic people that have worked in the stores forever and we have very little staff turnover. People develop relationships with the client which is why we did so well in the recession. I didn't want the experience on the web to be any different - I wanted people to see a familiar face. Our company has always been about our family - all the people that work for life - there's not that many companies where people work and they stay there. They stay and they move up and on.
'The Men and Women of Marc Jacobs' available in selected Marc Jacobs stores in limited run.