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Marc Jacobs - runway success

Marc Jacobs
runway success
by Vivian Manning-Schaffel
June 5, 2006

It’s virtually impossible to troll down the street of an affluent urban area without stumbling across a dedicated worshipper of fashion icon Marc Jacobs. His slightly retro, yet completely functional brands (and sub-brands) include clothing, bags, shoes, home accessories and fragrances, all of which have been ordained swoon-worthy by celebutantes and scene-sters on all corners of the globe.

When it comes to building luxury fashion brands, there’s no doubt Jacobs has the Midas touch. One of today’s unparalleled tastemakers, the Marc Jacobs brand family is considered among luxury conglomerate LVMH’s “star brands,” raking in profits of approximately US$ 4.9 million in 2005. But there’s more. Jacobs is not only responsible for the vision of his own namesake brand, but he’s also been at the creative helm of his profitable parent company’s namesake, Louis Vuitton, since 1997.

A graduate of Parsons School of Design, Marc Jacobs received numerous pats on the back early on, auspiciously earning some of the school’s highest accolades, such as the Perry Ellis Gold Thimble Award, Chester Weinberg Gold Thimble Award, and Design Student of the Year. He was also the youngest designer to win the Fashion Designers of America Perry Ellis Award for new fashion talent.

Marc Jacobs met his future business partner Robert Duffy, then a fashion executive with Ruben Thomas, in 1984. To this day, Duffy handles the business end of the Marc Jacobs brand empire. Their first brand, Jacobs Duffy Designs, was launched in 1986 and was well received by critics, if not entirely profitable.

When designer Perry Ellis invited them to head his womenswear line in 1988, Jacobs and Duffy jumped at the chance. In 1992, Jacobs attempted to draw the younger clotheshorse to Ellis with his infamous “grunge” collection, creating a luxury version of the period’s throwaway casual look. It landed him in favor with the critics, winning the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Womenswear Designer of the Year Award, but out of favor with Ellis, who argued that the collection was too far a reach for his core consumer. Both Jacobs and Duffy were abruptly dismissed.

Determined to succeed on their own terms, Jacobs and Duffy launched their own licensing company in 1993, and through various distribution deals, bounced back in 1994 with the initial launch of the Marc Jacobs signature line of womenswear.

In 1997, Jacobs and Duffy sealed a shrewd deal with LVMH, agreeing to inject stalwart prestige brand Louis Vuitton with a dose of their youthful vision on the condition that LVMH would, in turn, finance the growth of the Marc Jacobs brand.

Later that year, the first Marc Jacobs storefront opened in the fashionable Soho district of New York and Jacobs took home another CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award. This eventually led to the launch of Marc by Marc Jacobs in 1998, a slightly more affordable line of clothing.

The LVMH deal worked out extremely well for both parties, but not without a few speed bumps in the road. Jacobs reportedly did a stint in rehab in 1999 for a drug and alcohol problem.

Fortunately, Jacobs’ personal issue was just a blip in the radar of his professional success. After rehab, Jacobs set about expanding his brand by introducing new product offerings, such as a menswear line called Marc Jacobs Men and a Marc Jacobs handbag line in 2000. During the next few years, Jacobs launched Marc Jacobs Perfume and was rewarded for his expansion into menswear with the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award.

Jacobs may have fled the frenetic pace of New York for the more sedate environs of Paris, but his business continues to grow at a fairly rapid clip. With numerous awards under his belt, the Jacobs brand has expanded into a design-tastic assortment of fragrances, eyewear, watches and leather offerings to satiate its voracious fans. Marc Jacobs, Marc Jacobs Men and Marc by Marc Jacobs retail locations can now be found in select fashion-friendly cities from Las Vegas to Taiwan to Dubai. Little Marc (for kids) and a streetwear brand called Stinky Rat are among the most recent offerings to creep onto the shelves.

Jacobs is still considered a renegade, but he has found success on his own terms. Along with Duffy, he carefully cultivated a brand mystique that works the same magic formula as his grunge days—a formula that effectively entices the 18-44 creative and the wannabe creative (with a considerable disposable income) to invest in the promise of an affluent, carefree boho lifestyle while simultaneously retaining a certain “indie” credibility. With director Sofia Coppola as his main muse, the Jacobs signature brand print campaign is shot by photographer Juergen Teller, who depicts Coppola and Jacobs’ other favorite actresses, musicians and artists as vessels who deliver Jacobs’ unique design sensibility to the annals of the mainstream, capturing them in a private moment of rapture as they revel in the joy of his brand. And if you’ve got the dough, you can too.

Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a freelance writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
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