"She completes me," says Marc Jacobs of Katie Grand, somewhat facetiously. The designer and the stylist have spent almost every waking moment together over the last month. Has that turned the pair's relationship into a Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? scenario? "Yeah," laughs Grand. "But who's Elizabeth Taylor?"
The dialogue continues in this vein. It's like an old married couple's repartee: full of weird non sequiturs, catchphrases, and inside jokes. Six weeks of working 15 hours a day together would leave most real married couples ready for divorce. Fortunately, Jacobs and Grand aren't.
"We've never had a row," says Grand. "And it's been ten years."
"How's that!" Jacobs adds, faux smugly.
Their working relationship began with Grand styling a number of Vuitton advertising campaigns, followed by four of the menswear shows, and now, for seven years, she has been firmly ensconced as the stylist of the Louis Vuitton women's ready-to-wear show, one of fashion's most coveted jobs. Grand is also editor in chief of Love magazine in London. Jacobs splits his time between New York and Paris, working on his namesake label and as creative director of Vuitton.
"When we first worked together, well, it just worked," he says. Despite the long distance? "We WhatsApp a lot," he explains, referring to a smartphone messaging app. Grand: "I only have WhatsApp for you."
It's 11 p.m. in the Louis Vuitton womenswear studio in Paris, two nights before the Vuitton Spring show, and at this point, every hour matters. Nerves are frayed; vast quantities of Diet Coke and Perrier are being consumed (by Jacobs and Grand, respectively; as Grand points out, unlike in Virginia Woolf, here "there is not much alcohol involved").
The design studio just before a show is extraordinary: inspiring yet full of cabin fever. The same people have been here for days, with only quick trips home to nap, shower, and change before it all begins again. The day before the show, even this will be dispensed with. The call time is 3 a.m., so why bother? For a 10 a.m. show, this is hours earlier than most designers would begin. But such is what's required for this particular event.
Jacobs is attuned to every minor detail, so everybody is on their toes. Including, quite literally, Grand, who is wearing extremely high heels. "I make the effort," she says later. "There is something in wearing heels, the physicality of it, that enables me to separate one day from another. For the last 36 hours, I always wear them; when you are sleep-deprived, a bit of physical pain helps." And, she adds, "Marc makes an effort in Paris, too." (Although, at the moment, he is recently changed into a pair of sweatpants and pool shoes.)
The fittings are being done on the models in pairs, with each mirroring the other. The length of one model's sleeve will correspond precisely to the other model's, as will their shoulder widths, most of their heights, and features. The strange "twinness" of it all will eventually extend into the setting and the shimmering music of the show. The precision required is immense—which is perhaps why Jacobs looks a bit more worried before this show than usual.
Yet the mood and concentration don't flag, in part because of the supporting cast of collaborators—Julie de Libran, Vuitton's design director; Emma Winter, who creates the bags; Clare Corrigan, jewelry; and, of course, Grand, whose job it is to pull it all together. The relationship between her and Jacobs is one of the exemplary ones between stylist and designer. It's hands-on and emotional, and has produced startling results at Vuitton. "I don't think you can work together unless you have a nice time," explains Grand. "It's just too stressful."
"You can have stressful moments, but it just generally works," Jacobs qualifies. "It gives something to the overall process."
"God, this is like couples counseling!" jokes Grand.
The endless permutations of Fabrizio Viti's shoes have finally arrived, and Grand is busy aligning them to what feels correct for each look under Jacobs' approving/disapproving eye. With the arrival of the real show shoes—prototypes were being used as a general guide—looks will be switched, lengths will be altered, and moods will be modified. The shoes are one of the final pieces in a puzzle that began months ago.
At length, models continue to filter into the studio, two by two. By this point, it seems that Jacobs and Grand are speaking a language entirely of their own making.
Jacobs: "And here's Julia Nobis, how exciting! Chaaaaaarrrrlllliiiieeeee!"
"Have you watched 'Charlie the Unicorn'?" asks Grand.
The pair tell the story of the YouTube phenomenon that the rest of the studio and the model Julia Nobis have clearly seen. Charlie turns out to be a grouchy animated unicorn—in temperament, at least, not too dissimilar to Marc Jacobs at this point.
"It is one of the things that has cemented our relationship!" declares Jacobs, mock-momentously. "When you relate to something like 'Charlie the Unicorn,' you just know you're kindred spirits. Watch it, then you'll know the key to our dynamic."
In one of his forays, Charlie, forever the skeptic, is admonished by his unicorn pals. "Shun the nonbeliever!" they trill. Which may explain part of Charlie's appeal to the harried studio crew. This many days and weeks into the proceedings, it's true believers only.
Katie: "We were watching 'Charlie the Unicorn' when Kaaaaarllllliiiiieeee Kloss came in, so we thought it was hilarious. Chaaaaaarrrrlllliiiieeeee!"
Or maybe it's something simpler than all that: cabin fever.