After weathering the dizzying highs and exhausting lows of more than three decades in the fashion business, Marc Jacobs remains a singular creative force in fashion — and one of its most ambitious showmen. Usually, he takes the opportunity of each runway outing to explore a new narrative, taking inspiration from the history of hip hop for one reason or from rave culture for another. But for his latest runway collection, staged Monday night inside Manhattan’s stately New York Public Library, Jacobs mined his most recent ideas as material.
He iterated on the elongated and oversized shapes, distressed denim and giant paillette chain mail that first appeared on the runway in a surprise show last summer, when the pandemic seemed to be finally ending. Then, his models were initially so cocooned against the elements that their eyes were not visible, before they removed an outer later. This season, however, the models were mostly bareheaded, sporting dramatic undercut hairstyles (achieved with the help of prosthetics) that made them look more like futuristic survivors, equipped with platform boots and oversized tote bags or exuberant coated Tyvek ball gowns and opera-length leather gloves.
Several of the opening looks resembled soft leather medical scrubs, which drew to mind the many American healthcare workers who will no longer be able to provide abortions following the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to overrule Roe vs Wade on Friday.
In a note to the audience entitled “Choice,” Jacobs wrote, “We share our choices in contrast to the ongoing brutality and ugliness of a world beyond our insulated but not impermeable walls.” He finished by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche: “We have art in order not to die of the truth.”
For decades, and as his peers experimented with different presentation styles, Jacobs’ elaborate shows remained the highly anticipated conclusion to every New York Fashion Week. Now, Jacobs is embracing a more thoughtful and independent approach, showing once a year with little advance notice during the summer in New York, in the few days between the conclusion of the spring 2023 men’s shows and the start of couture week in Paris.
The collection will be sold exclusively at luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman this autumn, continuing a relationship established last year. Meanwhile, less expensive versions of many of the pieces will be sold by the brand online and in its own stores alongside a range of handbags, like the cute and colourful Snapshot crossbody, that have become newly dependable sellers with a wider network of retailers.
That’s all in addition to a third line, Heaven, that has enthralled Gen-Z shoppers with its 90s and early 2000s nostalgic baby tees and sweater vests designed by the young Australian designer Ava Nirui at a contemporary price point.
The main Marc Jacobs line is capitalising on the nostalgia trend, too. A new advertising campaign out now, starring actress Winona Ryder — who was once convicted for shoplifting, among other things, a Marc Jacobs cashmere sweater from Saks Fifth Avenue — spotlights the bags. In recent years, the brand also re-released Jacobs’ spring 1993 grunge collection for Perry Ellis, a now seminal collection that was so unpopular at the time he lost his job.
Those identifiable handbags and the buzzy Heaven line were nowhere to be seen on the runway on Monday. It was an opportunity for Jacobs to do what he does best — like finding new ways to distress fabric and playing with proportions — without needing to seek commercial appeal. Such concerns can come later, as he did this spring when the brand released an all under-$500 collection of oversized pieces and accessories covered in a bold monogram.
The multi-tiered and digitally focused strategy is part of a turnround effort at the LVMH-owned brand that is bearing fruit after years of decline and short-lived hires. After Jacobs stepped down from his historic run as the creative director for womenswear at Louis Vuitton at the end of 2013 — during which he pushed LVMH’s crown jewel, still mostly known for classic leather goods, into the centre of fashion, doubling revenues in the first four years — he aimed to focus solely on growing his own label. It was then generating reportedly close to $1bn in revenue, with LVMH reportedly considering spinning it out via an initial public offering.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, the brand folded its popular contemporary line Marc by Marc Jacobs, leaving customers wanting, and struggled to find effective leadership after co-founder Robert Duffy exited in 2015. These challenges coincided with a period of disruption across the fashion industry triggered by the rise of ecommerce and fast-fashion and the decline of department stores and print media. Brands like Jacobs were forced to rethink their approach to making, selling and marketing their wares.
Under former Kenzo chief executive Eric Marechalle, who LVMH brought to Marc Jacobs in 2017, the brand has found a new streamlined way forward.
While LVMH does not break out the earnings of its smaller brands like Marc Jacobs, chief financial officer Jean-Jacques Guiony previously reported the brand was profitable in 2020 for the first time in five years, and recently praised its performance in ecommerce in an earnings call with analysts. Perhaps the greatest indication of LVMH’s renewed faith in Marc Jacobs’ future is in its store plans. Last year, the brand opened 15 new locations. This year, it plans for an additional 20.
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