Louis Vuitton's creative director Marc Jacobs is out. That was the news delivered backstage, following the American designer's presentation of his spring/summer 2013 collection for the French fashion behemoth, one of the biggest shows on the fashion calendar.
Frankly, no-one was shocked. Intrigues have swirled for months concerning Jacobs' seat of power at Vuitton, namely that after sixteen years he was stepping down to focus on his eponymous brand, a brand that launched a beauty range earlier this year and is set for imminent IPO.
Although no official release was forthcoming, at the show Louis Vuitton Chief Executive Michael Burke confirmed that this was Jacob's final for Vuitton. The 10-year contracts of both Jacobs, 50, and his his long-time business partner Robert Duffy, 58, expiring at the end of this year, will not be renewed. They are leaving Louis Vuitton to focus on the expansion of the Marc Jacobs label.
Jacobs was the first fashion designer to create clothing under the Louis Vuitton brand. Installed as designer in 1997, following high-profile appointments of Alexander McQueen at Givenchy and John Galliano at Dior, Jacobs outlasted both. His 16 year tenure as creative director of Louis Vuitton is bettered only by Karl Lagerfeld's forty-eight years at Fendi, and thirty years at Chanel.
Born to a non-orthodox Jewish family in New York in 1963, Marc Jacobs had a passion for fashion and a lust to succeed from an early age. He launched his label in 1984 while still a student at Parsons School of Design when a range of sweaters he created were snapped up by New York boutique Charivari. Robert Duffy - who worked alongside him at Vuitton - was with him from the start, the two forming Jacobs Duffy Designs Inc. He showed his first collection in 1986.
Marc Jacobs' career has never been short of controversy. The furore over Kate Moss smoking a cigarette on the winter 2011 Vuitton catwalk pales in comparison to his 1992 “Grunge” collection for Perry Ellis. Inspired by the music of Nirvana, the collection launched a thousand imitations. It also got Jacobs fired.
Jacobs' tenure at Louis Vuitton has been smoother. It's also been paved with gold: for the past six consecutive years (2006-2012) Louis Vuitton has been named the world's most valuable luxury brand. It rakes in £5.8 billion per year.
It's also transformed Jacobs himself into a fashion megastar. A 2008 New Yorker profile relayed that market research at a Midwestern mall showed American shoppers recognised the Marc Jacobs name, although their perceptions of him were somewhat confused. Most thought he was an actor or a rock star.
The focus on Jacobs' own label, which continues to be part of Bernard Arnault's LVMH stable (the conglomerate who own Louis Vuitton), is canny. Despite its success, Vuitton maintains a position at the very highest echelon of luxury, with no lower-priced lines or cosmetics. Marc Jacobs, by contrast, has beauty and highly-successful fragrances, as well as his diffusion line Marc by Marc Jacobs. Earlier this year, the British designer Luella Bartley was tapped to direct those collections.
All indications are that Marc Jacobs is an empire complex. His stepping down from Louis Vuitton is an acknowledgement, perhaps, that his own name is a strong enough brand, both creatively and commercially, to demand his full attentions. LVMH must also agree.
Fashion fans, however, will doubtless miss his high-profile Louis Vuitton shows, the traditional finale to Paris Fashion Week.
Marc Jacobs' successor at Louis Vuitton is expected to be announced shortly. If intrigues are once again proven correct, it will be Nicolas Ghesquiere, the much-feted Frenchman who headed Balenciaga until October 2012.
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