American designer Marc Jacobs has flourished and fallen throughout his career. While the admittedly out-of-touch fashion figure has drifted in and out of style since the launch of his namesake label in the late ‘80s, consistent industry and celebrity admiration have proved the label’s enduring presence. Now, as the brand appears to be entering an era of renewed popularity, Marc Jacobs’ history of faltering fame has posed the question—will the brand’s revived persona be enough to withstand the pressures of the pandemic?
Jacobs’ journey to widespread recognition was expedited by Robert Duffy in 1983, when the Reuban Thomas executive met the young designer upon his graduation from Parsons School of Design. Recognizing the emerging talent’s potential, Duffy directed Jacobs’ transformation, introducing his handmade and grunge designs to the masses. The duo’s first foray into design under Jacobs’ label in 1986 began the designer’s running list of accolades, winning him the CFDA/Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent. Soon after, in 1989, Jacobs was appointed as creative director for the American brand, overseeing womenswear collections.
A pivotal moment which saw the designer simultaneously despised by brand management and recognized as a purveyor of culturally relevant clothing, Jacobs’ Grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 1993 in many ways predated the eventual casualness of luxury fashion. But the designer’s decision to follow his intuition received low marks from conventional fashion followers. Fortunately, Jacob’s dismissal would soon be overshadowed by a string of successes.
In the ‘90s, Jacobs caught the eye of cool-girl celebrities like Winona Ryder, Sophia Coppola, and Chloë Sevigny—a few muses to support the designer and sport his designs on the red carpet. It was also during this time that the designer, despite his downfall at Perry Ellis, would establish his eponymous label as an international company before passing it along to LVMH in 1997. Upon forfeiting ownership of his label, Jacobs became creative director at Louis Vuitton.
Marc Jacobs continued to score with celebrities and mainstream consumers in the early 2000s with the creation of the Stam, the widely regarded it bag of the time. Like the Birkin and Lady Dior, the highly coveted purse was named after a celebrity, this time supermodel Jessica Stam. Now considered a classic, the 2005 release coincided with the height of its creators popularity.
Through the 2000s and early 2010s, the designer also retained artistic authority at Louis Vuitton , credited with refreshing the French heritage brand by injecting contemporary flair into its designs. Likely his most influential contribution was the introduction of recurring artist collaborations, which saw artists like Stephen Sprouse, Richard Prince, and Yayoi Kusama adorn accessories with vibrant colors and novel prints.
Jacobs left his post at Louis Vuitton in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2015 that things began to turn sour. Despite the designer’s initial comprehension of popular culture, a standout element among the brand’s traditional competitors, the designer admitted in an interview that he was “out of touch with what today really looks like.” Disjointed designs coincided with falling profits as the brand struggled to resonate with the young generation. It was at this time that the brand unexpectedly announced that it would be discontinuing its affordable luxury line, Marc by Marc Jacobs, which was thought to be a highly profitable portion of the business.
Public confusion was, among other somber brand news, directed at the secondary line’s peculiar conclusion. While some believed its closure was an attempt to simplify consumer perceptions of the brand and the wholesale buying experience—the mainline collection was sometimes overlooked by department stores in favor of its more affordable alternative, it was one of LVMH’s many manifestations of streamlining for the brand’s upcoming IPO. Jacobs had an optimistic and forward-thinking outlook on the line’s end, stating in an interview that “[Marc by Marc Jacobs] wasn’t supposed to be a second line or the poor-relative-of.” The designer’s belief that high and low fashions should exist harmoniously and without blatant distinction from one another was a hopeful clarification that the line would be absorbed rather than abandoned.
Duffy, both a brand co-founder and longtime motivator of Jacobs, stepped down from his position as president in 2015 as well, only to be followed by a list of short lived hires, including former Kenzo head Eric Marechalle and former Baja East designer John Targon. The fate of the brand seemed to be sealed too, when in 2017, LVMH halted the production of Marc Jacobs’ menswear line.
Although Jacobs’ successes appear to be condensed to only a few decades, the designer and his namesake brand have upheld a loyal following of famous friends and continued to be awarded industry honors. However, as store closures and lagging revenue evidence, popularity does not always equate to merchandise sold. It appears though, that the once detached Jacobs, along with his self-titled label, is finally turning a corner.
Marc Jacobs has seen a resurgence in reputation among young celebrities and consumers. The designer who initially shunned social media seems to have championed the medium, utilizing it to amplify his message of self-expression and his brand’s rebellious spirit. Marc Jacobs designs are being flaunted by celebrities like Bella Hadid, Billie Eilish, Issa Rae, and Dua Lipa, both of their free will and at the hands of stylists, affirming its advanced allure.
The snapshot bag, which debuted in 2018 but remains a window attraction in Marc Jacobs stores, was perhaps a signal of the creative’s comeback. The distinct style can be seen in the recently launched series Emily in Paris, advertised on the arm of the main character played by Lily Collins. However, Jacobs’ newfound appeal is not limited to affordable accessories. The designer’s collections in recent time have materialized his talent for reframing nostalgic fashions for today’s consumers. For Spring/Summer 2020, Jacobs presented ‘60s mod style through a modern and minimalist lens. And just a few months ago, the release of a polysexual collection and, Heaven, affirmed the brand’s connection to social change while revisiting its subversive heritage. Bootlegger-turned-collaborator Ava Nirui assisted Jacobs in dreaming up the nonconforming collection—one very much aligned with a young generation that openly embraces fluidity and unapologetic expression.
This reframing has allowed Marc Jacobs to reestablish its stylishness without neglecting its spirited, ‘90s-rooted persona. The brand continues to channel the sensationalism of the fashion show through celebrity-boasting and dramatized displays. Even in times of uncertainty, Jacobs’ asserted his dominance over the industry through extravagant exhibitions. A marching band and a takeover of the historical Ziegfeld Theatre are just a few examples of his overstated demonstrations. For the brand’s Fall/Winter 2020 show and New York Fashion Week finale, muse Miley Cyrus made a guest appearance. Jacobs’ fashions are equally fantastical creations, continuing to generate maximalist designs with contemporary poise. Logomania, a movement which reached its height around the time of the brand’s fruition, remains an anchor of the brand’s collections. The recent reemergence of secondary lines like Heaven and The Marc Jacobs realize the retro trend through grunge-inspired graphics and statement-making text.
Covid-19 has undoubtedly upset Marc Jacobs’ ascent. The designer was notably absent from September fashion week—a move that was announced back in April. With this year’s fall production on hold, the label’s trajectory is again unpredictable. Although Jacobs’ decision to opt out of the traditional fashion calendar may be interpreted negatively, as many other illustrious names do the same, it leads us to believe that the brand is choosing to adapt rather than return to business as usual. Perhaps disruption is just what the celebrated designer needed to rekindle his creative vision.END
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