Keeping it unreal

By Ava Nirui
Photograph by Guillaume Blondiau

A letter from… Heaven. - © System Magazine

How a bootleg hoodie landed one Marc Jacobs fan the job of a lifetime.

In 2015, I was making fake designer sweatshirt one-offs from Champion blanks by co-opting their trademark C insignia on the chest into luxury brand logos. I had just finished one that ripped off the Marc Jacobs logo and decided to post it on my Instagram. Shortly after, I received a message from someone who worked at Marc Jacobs in New York. As I quickly scanned the message – anticipating the words ‘cease and desist’ – I was shocked to learn that the guy was interested in buying the sweatshirt to gift to Marc. I read the message several times, convinced I was missing something. At the time, several friends were embroiled in messy legal battles with big luxury fashion houses over bootlegs they created. I just assumed it was my turn at bat. And as much as I was relieved, I was left very confused over the thought that Marc would want this janky DIY counterfeit.

Lo and behold, a few months later, I was asked by two women who ran the social at Marc Jacobs if I would consider working on a collaboration with the brand. I was surprised by how open they were to new ideas, particularly those around the concept of somehow defacing the Marc Jacobs logo. Their interest in a genuine collaboration was an early reflection of the culture inside the company.

It is all still very surreal for me – to have been contacted by a brand run by their namesake designer whom I have looked up to since I was a teenager. And while I had some experience with junior to mid-level fashion jobs since moving to New York from Australia, I was never able to contribute to a brand with such creative freedom. I was invited back to do a second collaboration, which in hindsight was really the mini-incubator for what would become the Heaven by Marc Jacobs project. I asked Julian [Consuegra] from Stray Rats, Avi [Gold] from Better Gift Shop and David [Owen] and Angela [Hill] from IDEA Books to create some artwork for a series of limited-edition hoodies. I remember thinking back then, ‘I wonder if I could figure out a way to do this full-time at Marc.’

A few months after the second project was released, I was contacted by Nick Newbold who works closely alongside Marc, and wouldn’t you know, a day or two later I was standing awestruck in (more or less) the same studio space as I had seen in Loïc Prigent’s Louis Vuitton documentary. It took a few minutes to find my footing in the meeting with Marc as I stumbled a bit before settling and remembering to breathe! I don’t recall ever feeling so nervous in my entire life. I remember feeling so humbled by his kindness, intelligence and incredible ability to articulate himself. He shared a series of upcoming projects with me and showed me stacks of unreleased ready-to-wear campaign printouts before walking me through where the business was and its intended direction. He spoke candidly about his instincts in wanting to meet with me to discuss the possibility of working full-time at the company. I remember Marc telling me that my first project for his brand (crudely rewriting and misspelling the Marc Jacobs logo for a hoodie), reminded him of the spirit of his collaboration with Stephen Sprouse for Louis Vuitton and the inherent nature of taking risks and trusting instincts.

After the meeting, I connected again with Nick who literally asked me to write a dream job description while taking into consideration the brand’s history, its current position in the marketplace, and where I saw potential to create a new and exciting expression. A few months later, I joined Marc Jacobs full time as ‘Head of Special Projects’, which was the beginning of what has now been five incredible years. The irony in all of this, as I see it, begins and ends with the idea of taking risks and trusting instincts. When I made that Marc Jacobs/Champion hoodie, I wasn’t thinking of potential repercussions and if I had, I probably would have stopped short of posting to Instagram. I like to think I continue to apply a ‘risk-vs-reward’ approach to the work I am doing these days for the brand and remind myself daily of something that Marc has repeated over the years: ‘Know the rules before you break them, and ask for forgiveness later.’

Within both the Marc Jacobs and Heaven lines, we continue to invite many people from niche pockets of the internet to come and play. Their fresh creative perspectives are so incredibly valuable and inspiring to us all. I like to think the spirit of inviting others to interpret, collaborate and dream a little with the brand is the privilege that Marc extended to me. Heaven would not exist without the hundreds of contributors who are helping to architect and shape the line and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Marc inviting me in to dream a little…

Taken from System No. 22 – purchase the full issue here.