“It’s always been hard to tell my story because my story always changes, and it’s always about really honouring all of these impulses rather than having this strict signature [style],” Marc Jacobs tells me. “The one thing that I am consistently doing is being inconsistent. I am consistently inconsistent. So that’s like saying, ‘I am perfectly imperfect. I am perfect as I am.’”

We’re on a video call to talk about the designer’s newest chapter, a fragrance called Perfect, but our conversation quickly evolves into one about self-expression and creativity in fashion. “I think designers could be different if they encouraged more style and passion and more individuality rather than conforming,” he says. “Acknowledging and appreciating people who celebrate their individuality and who are free to express themselves and tell their stories instead of saying, ‘This is what you should aspire to,’ or ‘That is what you should aspire to, and that is the ideal.’”

With the new fragrance, Jacobs is looking to amplify the message of individualism, and redefine what “perfect” means. Fifteen years ago, the designer got a tattoo with the word on his right wrist: “I look at it every day to remind me that I am perfect as I am.” He also points to the I Ching saying “I am a perfect being, in a perfect world, where everything that happens benefits me completely,” as inspiration. “I am in a state of becoming and a state of being always, and whatever that state is, is perfect,” he says of what he takes away from the message. “It’s the way it’s meant to be, it’s the way I am meant to be. And I don’t aspire to any model of perfection because as I am, in this moment, in this world, it’s perfect.”

This mindset extends to the fragrance campaign which sees Lila Moss — a model and the daughter of Kate Moss who has appeared in Marc Jacobs campaigns in the past — alongside 42 other models and individuals who were handpicked by Jacobs through an open social media casting call. “People submitted these videos of them talking about what the word ‘perfect’ meant to them,” he says. “We then called in a bunch of people, and I got to meet them, and I found that there were certain people that I immediately related to, that I had good banter with and I appreciated what they brought. Like, they walked into the studio, and I was like, ‘You’re perfect as you are. I want you to be a part of this story.’” According to Jacobs, there was no one quality that drew him to the group selected: “What was exciting to me was that they were each very unique in their own way with the qualities they brought in.”

For the styling of the campaign, which took three days, Jacobs and his team went into the fashion archives. “We pulled some clothes from past collections that we thought were colourful, and then we also picked a rack of our vintage archive, clothes that we always looked at and always go back to, like the slip dresses,” he says. Alongside stylist Katie Grand, he then let the models pick the type of looks they wanted to wear. “There was just this huge, huge wardrobe room, and it was like kids in a candy store. Everybody just gravitated towards what they wanted. Alek Wek went directly for this, like, fluid jumpsuit from the ‘70s collection we did many years ago,” he says. “[Precious Lee] wanted to wear the mesh sequin dress that Miley [Cyrus] wore to the Met [Gala in 2013]. Everybody just did their own thing, and it was great. It was just very alive with that desire to express oneself and to feel good about oneself as you are.”

When it came to the bottle design, Jacobs used a process not unlike one for a fashion look. “I wanted some attributes of a classic fragrance bottle, but I wanted it to be chopped up, and I wanted it to become more of an eccentric and charming representation of a classic bottle,” he says. The final design is a dome-like bottle with a crystal-cut cap featuring a collection of mismatched charms ranging from a domino piece to a bow and banana. For the latter, Jacobs also went into the archives and dug through a box of charms left over in the design room. “We just kind of got some clay and an old, classic fragrance stopper, and we put a big clump of clay, and I started shoving random things,” he says. “I was just rummaging through the box, and there was, like, a heart locket, and then the blocks with the ‘MJ.’” They were all just kind of things that may have some meaning to me, but they were really a very instinctive, in-the-moment collage of bits and pieces of things that I just had at hand that I wanted to use to make this bottle cap.” He calls the process “very organic and instinctive,” adding that “there was a lot of love and a lot of instinct and a lot of whim that went into it, and I think that’s where it gets its charm.”

It indeed feels like it has the Marc Jacobs touch; a whimsy, irreverent quality that is simultaneously a rejection of tradition and an ode to it — something that often comes up in Jacobs’ fashion work. “The idea of looking at something and wanting to change it or tweak it, it’s just in my nature. I like to actually make things, and I like to design things, and I like to re-design things, and I like re-envision things. And there’s a part of me that loves these sort of steady classics, and I like fucking with them, and I like tweaking them and playing with them. I like creating something new and bringing old things together, and mixing them up. That’s kind of the approach that I’ve worked with since forever,” he says. “It’s just always been a mishmash of different impulses and instincts, and I feel like this is the most current version of that thinking.”

That indeed translates to the campaign, which includes a video and a collage of portraits and vignettes showcasing the individuality of the large cast. “No one person is perfect in this — they’re all perfect. It’s not about any individual, it’s about the collective,” he says. “I feel like it expresses self-expression and creativity, and it validates this idea of style and individuality, and I think that’s something that fashion has missed for many, many years. It’s always like, ‘Oh, if you want to belong, you have to look like this, you have to be like this,’ and I just feel like this is a project where we said, ‘No.’”

Yet, again, it seems like we aren’t talking about fragrance anymore.

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