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At SXSW, fashion designer Marc Jacobs explains why he’s embraced Instagram

Design guru offers an entertaining anti-tech perspective. 

Whomever booked fashion designer Marc Jacobs to appear at South by Southwest made a provocative choice. 

Although he started a popular Instagram account two years ago, Jacobs jokingly admits to being a tech “luddite.” 

“Email is about the best I can do,” he said. “A Google search I am good at.” 

He refers to the Instagram algorithms as “computer gods who decide what I like.” 

At one point, when asked where he got his news from, he called the notification alerts you get on your phone “pop-up thingies,” to the great amusement of the tech-savvy audience. 

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Jacobs even admitted to never having bought an item of clothing online. “I want to have a human experience,” Jacobs said about his preference for brick-and-mortar stores.

And even his recent fashion show in New York in February discouraged anyone from using their phones to take pictures or engage on social media. Jacobs said he went that direction so that he could in some way “control the experience” of what people saw, forcing them to focus on the entire point of the show: the clothes. 

Fashion designer Marc Jacobs talks with Sally Singerat South by Southwest. (Daulton Venglar/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Jacobs, who arrived wearing the bold choice of a red shirt with maroon-and-orange pants, was interviewed on stage Monday by Vogue’s Creative Director Sally Singer. 

His anti-tech outlook was a contrast to most of the fashion-oriented panels at SXSW, which focused on topics like wearable tech and the emergence of social media influencers. Jacobs is a “pencil and paper” guy, he readily admits.

Still, most of the talk focused on Jacobs’ newfound love of Instagram, which he uses like all of us do: To post selfies, pictures of his dog, fashion and the food he eats. He joined on a whim, he said, not to drive sales or improve his “brand.” 

“My personal Instagram I don’t think of as a marketing tool,” Jacobs said. “It’s probably a little bit more about my ego than it is about marketing. I’m not sure posting a picture of myself generates dollars. Maybe it makes me, to a certain group of people, more accessible.”

He said part of the “joy” of social media is that he can “effect people,” and give them a sense of your humanity. For instance, Jacobs talked about responding to delighted fans on Instagram, sending them hellos and kiss emojis. 

“You are not just a brand,” Jacobs said. “You are an actual human being who puts their pants on one leg at a time.” 

Singer steered the discussion toward politics a few times. Jacobs has posted photos of him wearing pro-Hillary Clinton shirts, she noted. But Jacobs said he did that as a personal choice, and doesn’t think fashion designers have any obligation to be political. 

An audience member asked  a more pointed question. Would he ever design clothing for President Donald Trump or First Lady Melania Trump?

Jacobs shook his head. “I’d rather put my energy into helping people that are hurt by his presidency than designing clothes for him or his wife,”  he said.

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