Bookstores may be many things, but fashionable isn’t usually one of them. That could change now that designer Marc Jacobs has put his imprimatur on Bookmarc stores on both coasts and added branded Bookmarc sections to a handful of MJ stores from Provincetown, Mass., to San Francisco, as well as in London, Paris, and Milan. He’s also planning to open two more stand-alone Bookmarcs in Washington, D.C., and Shanghai.
The man behind Bookmarc is actually Jacobs’s longtime business partner, Robert Duffy, founder, president, and vice chairman of Marc Jacobs International LLC, who takes as much care nourishing the Bookmarc brand as he does all the details of the fashion stores, making sure the merchandise is as inviting as possible. The first Bookmarc, which opened in September in New York, is in Duffy’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. “It started as a little personal endeavor on the street where I live,” says Duffy. The 400-sq.-ft. Bleecker Street bookstore, the sixth MJ-branded enterprise to open within a few blocks, angered some residents. They reacted against the West Village becoming an extension of the MJ brand and the ouster of Biography Bookshop (since renamed Book, Book and relocated to a new site on Bleecker), which occupied the Bookmarc location for two decades. By contrast, the 800-sq.-ft. Los Angeles Bookmarc, which opened in November, has inspired little drama. It’s one of five MJ outlets on Melrose Place, and was formerly an MJ accessories store.
“Fashion is about a lifestyle. Anything can be fashion,” says Duffy. Books as lifestyle is evident in the juxtaposition of books and other merchandise at Bookmarc. Nonbook items include hand-embroidered canvas book clutches made by Olympia Le-Tan in Paris, which feature covers of classic American novels like John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, and MJ-branded journals and notepads titled Huckleberry Finn Is My Homeboy or As I Lay Tanning. There are also paperbacks and hardcovers aplenty, especially by and about rock-and-roll stars, the 1960s cultural revolution, erotica, fashion, art, photography, and history, as well as memoirs, rare books, and even self-published titles from Blurb. Prices also tend to be eclectic, from $1,500 for a book-clutch to $1.50 for an MJ condom. The stores stock books geared to high-end collectors as well as to students at nearby schools, like the Savannah College of Art and Design, which is close to the MJ outlet in Savannah, Ga.
Few items are simply shelved. Books at Bookmarc are frequently face out or open, depending on the display, which is meant to make them approachable, accessible, and fun. There are bins of lipstick pens and key chains; necklaces hang by the cash register; and DVDs for sale play in the background. “Bookmarc is fun, and it’s profitable,” says Duffy. “We’ve sold more than 6,000 books,” many of them rare, hard-to-find art titles. The stores also feature The Men + Women of Marc Jacobs, the first volume in Bookmarc’s new publishing venture, which features photos of the employees at MJ taken by Brian Bowen Smith with proceeds going to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Avery Lozada, v-p, trade sales director at D.A.P., calls Bookmarc “a welcome addition to the bookselling landscape, in particular for books on art and visual culture. They’ve done a fabulous job editing a selection of books that complement the visual identity of the Marc Jacobs brand.” Despite its narrow focus, Marc Jacobs can have a big impact on the right book, like D.A.P.’s Maripol: Little Red Riding Hood by Maripol and The Beautiful and the Damned: Punk Photographs by Ann Summa.
Part of what drove Duffy to try his hand at both bookselling and publishing was his frustration with seeing so many bookstores close and with being able to find reproductions of paintings online, but not in books. It’s still too early to find out how a seasoned fashion retailer will fare in the book world. “To me the business is just starting to happen,” says Duffy. “A lot of writers are calling my office.” Some are being featured in signings at the stores, others could be published by MJ. At the same time Duffy is expanding the company’s bookstore presence, he is also increasing its publishing output. Currently, he is working on three books for the spring with plans to increase that to one book a month.
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