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Marc Jacobs (Soberly) Takes on Galliano's Troubed House

Fashion's sober survivor is poised to take the reins at the famed fashion house recently vacated by the disgraced John Galliano.

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Marc Jacobs: Fashion's Sober Survivor Moves in to Galliano's Troubled House Photo via

By Maer Roshan

09/08/11

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Six months after John Galliano's intoxicated rant against a pair of Jewish tourists led to his ouster as head designer of Christian Dior, fashion insiders are buzzing that the famously innovative—and sober—American designer Marc Jacobs is poised to replace him at the helm of the prestigious 65-year-old fashion house. Jacobs has been the creative director at Louis Vuitton, which is owned by the same conglomerate—LVHM—that owns the venerable Dior. Earlier today, a French court found foul-mouthed fashionista Galliano guilty of "public insults" based on origin, religion, race or ethnicity after two incidents—one last February and another in October, 2010. Last February, Galliano was drinking alone at a table outside La Perle bar in Paris's Marais district when he repeatedly insulted a French couple with lines like "fucking ugly Jewish bitch" and "fucking Asian bastard." Galliano, who blamed his diatribe on a "triple addiction" to sleeping pills, alcohol and Valium, has been lying low since his month-long stint in Arizona rehab The Meadows earlier this year. He didn't bother to appear in court today to receive his slap-on-the-wrist suspended fine.

Meanwhile, Jacobs, whose much-anticipated show will close New York's Fashion Week next Thursday, is being widely hailed in both Paris and New York as the all-but-assured heir to the Dior throne. Late last night a source close to the designer told The Fix that after mulling over the offer for over a month the designer was almost certain to accept it, barring a last-minute change of heart. Renowned for his extravagant and eclectic styles, the designer had also suffered his own well-documented problems with drugs and alcohol over the years. His hard-partying ways were once legendary, even in an industry where carousing is de rigueur. (Donatella Versace, who once collapsed head-first into a glass coffee table in Vogue editor Anna Wintour's office, decided to get sober shortly afterwards.) A breakout fashion prodigy who was once a regular fixture on New York's party scene, Jacobs was responsible for such internationally influential fashion innovations as grunge and was a favorite of both fashion critics and afficionados alike. But over time, all the partying took a serious toll on both his health and business, and his inebriated antics led to some widely publicized incidents over the years. He was kicked off airplanes for disruptive behavior—and was removed from one flight on a stretcher. He even missed one of his own Paris fashion shows. More typically, he would hole up in a hotel—in a haze fueled by vodka, heroin, cocaine or some combination thereof—and not show up at his studio for days at a time.

In 1999, at the urging of Wintour and his best friend and longtime business partner Robert Duffy, Jacobs entered the first of a series of US rehabs, including Galliano's alma mater the Meadows in Arizona. Soon after, he went on to enjoy several years of sobriety. But in 2007, when he reportedly relapsed on heroin, Duffy interceded once again. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, he took a cab to London's Dorchester Hotel, where Jacobs was staying before a show, and confronted the designer in his room. "Marc, I know what's going on," Duffy told his partner, and threatened to quit if Jacobs didn't go to treatment. "The day after the Louis Vuitton show you're going back to rehab," he told the designer. "I'm not going to sit here and watch you kill yourself." A few days later, Jacobs entered treatment at Passages, a posh $100,000-a-month Malibu rehab. He emerged "a new man," buff and glowing, health-conscious and clearly content with his cleaned-up life. The handsome designer now regularly appears as the model in his own ads.

As head designer at Louis Vuitton, Jacobs turned the stale, stodgy outfit into an immense commercial and critical success. While Jacobs' impressive track record may have made him seem like a shoo-in for the Dior post, he actually faced some stiff competition for the job, with several big names batted around in the run-up to New York's Fashion Week, including Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci and Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquiere. "In many ways, Marc was the best, most obvious choice for that job," says a well-placed fashion insider close to Jacobs, who nonetheless believes that the designer's hard-won victory over his demons played no small part in LVMH's decision to reward him with the plum job. "After the whole Galliano incident, they probably didn't want to risk another train wreck," he speculates. "They wanted someone who proved that he could get back on track."

From the start, Jacobs' approach to his struggle with addiction has been refreshingly open and honest. He admits that he nearly faced death or overdose several times in the past decades, but says his longtime friend and business partner Robert Duffy always stepped into save his life. "As soon as he realized [my heroin addiction in 1999], he said, 'I'm not going to sit back and watch you kill yourself.' He took the bull by the horns and went to Mr. Arnault [CEO of LVMH] and said, 'Marc needs to get help,'" Jacobs told the Wall Street Journal last summer. "He even did a press release. He and I philosophically agreed that it was not about hiding a problem. I've never avoided any kind of discussion about my personal life or rehab. I could probably afford to be that way because I have Robert's support." 

This straight-talking style earned Jacobs coverage that was almost universally sympathetic, resulting in little damage to his reputation or to his brands. It has also earned him a certain moral authority on the topic of celebrity sobriety. When asked about John Galliano, whose addictions were for years an open secret (despite efforts at a cover-up) at Dior and in the industry, the American designer was briskly dismissive of Galliano's initial denials and excuses to the press. "Blaming is such a complete waste. I mean, it's so pointless. To say, you know, my mother was absent and therefore I ran amok, it's ridiculous," he said.

Still, Galliano is not without his defenders. In an interview today with Reuters during Vogue's Fashion Night Out in Paris, designer Jean Paul Gaultier said he hoped that the designer would find a home at another grand design house elsewhere. "He has an immense talent, he has done wonders...and totally rejuvenated Dior. What happened was a mistake, he has shown with his work that he was not racist."

As for Jacobs, the enormous pressure to re-brand Dior will likely test his sobriety no less than his talent. "He's tired of being the bad boy," says a close Jacobs pal. "He really wants to move on and shake things up." Yet if the past is prologue, Dior has cause for optimism. Of sobriety, Jacobs says: "It's stimulating. I'm exercising and eating well, and it comes across in my work." "Marc has always been curious," says his business partner Duffy. "He always questions things: the way we see beauty, everything. When he's sober, it's great. What's been the most difficult part is when he was just completely strung out on drugs. When he got sober, the spark came back, and that was amazing. [His sobriety] means everything to both of us."

Maer Roshan is Editor-in-Chief of The Fix.

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