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Feb / Mar 2012
Making a Marc

Writer: Raya Jalabi/ Images: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

With an eponymous label of his own and as creative director of Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs has his hands full. Bespoke takes a look at how he’s straddled both worlds while refashioning the appeal of the legendary Parisian trunk-maker.


New York’s West Village has been branded with a Marc Jacobs-shaped iron. On a four-block radius, there are six Marc Jacobs stores covering all elements of his fashion empire: from Little Marc Jacobs (for those children in need) to menswear and womens’ accessories, this chic fashion enclave might as well be renamed Marc Jacobs Land. There’s even Bookmarc, a Marc Jacobs bookstore, the very existence of which could seem peculiar, but somehow makes sense. It’s emblematic of Jacobs’ approach to his work. He’s always doing something new, something different, something, well, revolutionary. 

Bookmarc is just another in Jacobs’ extended repertoire of innovative ideas. It is exactly this penchant for innovation that has garnered him a reputation as a trailblazer in an industry peppered with cyclical ideas. 

Jacobs has appropriated the cultural codes and trends of his age to shape the history of cutting-edge fashion. No surprise then that the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris’ first arrondissement - Jacobs’ part-time home - is celebrating the designer’s career at Louis Vuitton with a major retrospective. 

‘Louis Vuitton: Marc Jacobs’ is billed as an “invitation to analysis rather than a traditional retrospective,” an opportunity to examine the profound impact Jacobs’ arrival has had on the company, expanding the brand from luggage and leather goods to its first ready-to-wear men’s and women’s clothing line. Appropriately, the exhibit will be split in two - half devoted to the brand’s creator and the other, to the man who saved it from monotony.

Jacobs was born in 1963 in New York. His father died when he was just seven years old, leaving Jacobs in the care of a mother he has described as “mentally ill.” The awkward youngster was raised by his grandmother, who kindled his nascent interest in fashion by teaching him to knit. He attended the prestigious Manhattan High School of Art and Design, before moving on to the Parsons School of Design. His final show there centred on geometric polka-dotted knitwear and it garnered him impressive accolades and a partnership with Robert Duffy, who remains Jacobs’ friend and business partner today.

In 1988, after graduating from Parsons, Jacobs moved to Perry Ellis, propelling himself into the big leagues. Perry Ellis, a company that boasted over 100 million USD in annual sales, was considered one of the major names in American ready-to-wear alongside Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Jacobs tried, perhaps a little too hard, to distance himself from the all-American heritage for which the company was known. In 1992, he launched with his now-infamous ‘grunge’ collection. Although critically acclaimed, the line bombed commercially and Jacobs and Perry Ellis parted ways. 

Five years later, he had his own thriving brand and was hired to helm Louis Vuitton’s expansion into ready-to-wear. “The experience at Perry Ellis was great for me and for my professional growth and key for my appointment at Louis Vuitton,” says Jacobs. The move was perhaps not a logical step in a young designer’s career trajectory, particularly one who’s design ethos was so divergent from the storied Parisian brand’s but Vuitton heads clearly saw something special in Jacobs and today, the union between the fashion house and the quirky outsider couldn’t seem more perfect. 

As Vuitton’s artistic director, Jacobs oversees ready-to-wear, accessories and perfumes. He also designs Marc Jacobs womenswear and menswear and his Marc by Marc Jacobs diffusion line. For many, this would seem a difficult task, juggling two successful brands and channelling them into collective personal success but Jacobs doesn’t dwell much on it. “It’s not really such an effort,” he says. “I just go where I need to be at a given time and I’m pretty good at adapting to whatever environment I’m in.” 

The designer’s juggling act extends to his design aesthetic, which takes on a different form at each brand. “You’ve got this ultra-classic conservative age-old world of Vuitton that exists alongside the very trendy up-to-the-moment fashion world,” he once explained, “and I think the further apart those two things get, the more they complement each other in a way.”  

Jacobs’ eponymous collections are at the forefront of that “up-to-the-moment” fashion world. He has consistently championed the geek-chic persona, for both men and women. It’s almost as though being an outsider and designing as one was more familiar, more comfortable. Inspired by quirky muses like film director Sofia Coppola, he seems to pride himself on defying mainstream expectations. 

His spring/summer 2012 presentation for Vuitton, for example, was both an unpredictable and glossy affair, which showcased a gaggle of fresh-faced models, dressed in saccharine prom dresses and tiaras who span around on a carousel, to the delicate sounds of a music-box. “I’ve been struggling with this word ‘carousel,’ because I keep thinking ‘merry’ is the right word: merry-go-round,” he says, pondering the collection. “This merry-go-round idea is such a simple thought. It’s like, you get on it, it’s a pleasure and just kind of never ends – as long as you’re enjoying it.”

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