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The day I meet Mark Jacobs to go shopping on 14th Street, he isn't sporting his mink-tailed D-square ring or his plastic kiddie Benetton suitcase, two items I have seen him with previously. Instead Jacobs, who is 27, a senior contributing editor at Surfacemagazine, and the kind of guy who schlepped his New Jersey parents through Soho on shopping expeditions when he was a sub-teen, is dressed down in a secondhand CK T-shirt from a Connecticut Salvation Army, Helmut Lang jeans bought at Barneys, and a pair of Tommy Hilfiger flip-flops from Century 21.
Though we meet in front of the pristine Urban Outfitters on the corner of Sixth and 14th, Jacobs is less than entranced by its glittery newness. "We need to go to City Streets," he tells me. "That's where I get my Platinum Fubuit's always on sale. Oh, and we need to find the place I bought my tuxedo shirt, which might just be my favorite 14th Street thing ever." So we set off in the direction of Seventh Avenue, pausing at one of those unnamed perfume-baseball cap-watch stands so Jacobs can check the price of Drakkar Noir cologne, which he says is "you know, something everyone wore in junior high," and is currently one of his numerous obsessions.
The guy in the stall at 100 West 14th Street has Drakkar for $20"Special price now! Today!"and though Jacobs allows that this is $7 less than at Macy's, he is soon distracted by other interesting stuff, including fake gold $19.99 rhinestone-studded Rough Rider and Cash Money medallions crafted to appear hefty, but in truth fooling no one. At E&L Sportswear (102 West 14th), excitement is generated by a stack of $19.95 stonewashed jeansthat have ragged denim strips lacing up their legs. "I have my fingers crossed for relaxed fit," Jacobs says, though he betrays only scant disappointment when he unfolds a pair. "No, they're taperedbut that's nice too. And don't you love that the label says Zana-di?"
Three minutes later we're in front of Big Discount Store (110 West 14th), a classic 14th Street institution with increasingly hard-to-find Jesus tapestriesand bins full of dusty underwear. Jacobs takes one look and says, "This is my favorite! Blooper brand irregular T-shirtslove that. Two for $1.99. And these, love these," he adds, fingering a pair of $2.99 sweatpantsmade of weird thick polyester and printed to look like a combination of a ruined tablecloth and a Rauschenberg. Deep inside the store, Jacobs halts before a trough of shirts and declares, "This is the thing I love. I actually own this thing." It's the tuxedo shirt, complete with studs and a skinny bow tie, and it has a label that reads Galaxy, which Jacobs thinks sounds like one of those clothing companies credited at the end of Wheel of Fortune. It's $4.99, but seeing us linger, someone behind the counter yells out, "You pay cash, we give a discount."
Jacobs is really on a roll now. Though it's 85 degrees out, he is captivated by a $1.99 "Tis the Season" sweatshirt featuring six gamboling kittens and a Christmas tree. "I love seasonal merchandise," he sighs, explaining why a similar item, featuring a dressed-up cat, rabbit, and bear and with the legend "Life is a patchwork of friends," just doesn't do it for him.
I point with enthusiasm to the fake GucciGilligan's Island hats outside a place with the captivating name Luciano by Jr (112 West 14th), but Jacobs says gently that he thinks ersatz Gucci hats are maybe just a little bit tired. Instead he nudges me in the direction of a $45 black wall plaquefeaturing a Lamborghini along with a clock and enhanced with so many flashing colored lights it needs batteries andelectricity to run.
At City Streets (114 West 14th), there's plenty of Platinum Fubu, and it's certainly on sale, but it's not particularly floating Jacobs's boat for some reason. "I own this piece of clothing," he says of a pair of outsized jeansdecorated with a likeness of the Black Hornet. He seems slightly embarrassed. "If I had to do it over, I'd do just Fat Albert." The jeans are $30 instead of $100, but Jacobs shakes his head and says, "I don't know how excited I am about these pants anymore. You know what I like much better? Girbaud shirts!" City Streets is vast, with an old gray industrial staircase off to one side that makes Jacobs kind of sad. "You know what I hate about that staircase? It holds so much promise, but it doesn't go anywhere."
We double back across Sixth Avenue, and enter Vinocur (60 West 14th) a furniture store that Jacobs and I have visited on a previous occasion, when it had him practically frothing at the mouth with excitement. Today, the lacquer Buddhas and cartoonish deco bedroom sets don't seem to be setting off a similar euphoria, though he does nod approvingly in the direction of a $99 metal lamp with two egg-shaped lights that he calls "very Murray Moss" after the proprietor of Moss, the influential Soho design shop. In front of a Lucite bar that has a built-in Lucite wine rack and comes complete with two Lucite bar stools, he cracks a smile. "I like this better than the lamp. I don't like the lamp anymore." The price for this item, stools included, is a steep $1989, but according to Jacobs, this is a felicitous coincidence. "Nineteen eighty-nineyou couldn't say it any better! Everyone's excited about late '80s-early '90s style right now."
We pass the Hollywood Department Store ("a great place for bed skirts, that's all you need to know,") and come to Party City (38 West 14th), where the breadth of graduation ephemera is staggering. "How much do we love the Graduation Greeter?" Jacobs asks no one in particular. The Greeter is a $34.99, three-foot-tall stuffed bearin a cap and gown, and Jacobs says it's soft enough to sleep with, then peeks under the robe and changes his mindTeddy's legs turn into hard metal wires as soon as they disappear under his skirt. Party City also has "Happy Graduation" frogs ($19.99) wearing caps only, which Jacobs says might be because it's easier to dress up bears than frogs. In any case, the selection of bears is daunting. "Maybe this isn't the bear for you," he says philosophically of one fellow wearing glasses who comes stuffed in a mug, "but maybe this one isor this one is!" When I suggest that a pack of $2.97 orange and black "Happy Graduation" napkins may in fact be hastily recycled Halloween stock, Jacobs is slightly peeved. "It's not leftover Halloweenit's moreHalloween. You can't have too much Halloween. Oh, don't get me started."
Back in the broiling sun, Jacobs proclaims his 14th favorites a three-way tie: the Drakkar Noir, the tuxedo shirts, and the graduating bear. They are soon to be joined by a fourth contender: a Sharp boomboxat Best Value Electronics (6 West 14th)"$499! Half-price today!"of such enormous proportions that when Jacobs asks if you can, like, put it on your shoulder, four salesmen fall on the floor laughing. Jacobs likes everything about this item: its name (the Monster), its girth, and especially the little screen flashing colors and messages. "What do you call the screen?" he asks a salesman. "Oh, that's the equalizerit moves when you put something on." "It dances with the music," Jacobs grins, then turns to me and says he absolutely loves the Monster as much as the shirt, the bear, and cologne. "Put that on the list!"