PARIS, France — Marc Jacobs, Robert Duffy and LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault have confirmed that Jacobs is exiting his position as the creative director of Louis Vuitton, the luxury brand owned by LVMH, after many months of speculation.
The news marks the end of Jacobs’ 16-year tenure at the storied French house, which the American designer helped to transform from a staid luggage label into one of the most valuable fashion brands in the world, and the jewel in LVMH’s crown.
Indeed, when Jacobs joined the brand in 1997, the New York-based rookie sensation known for popularising 90s grunge, injected both contemporary cultural currency and his characteristic showmanship into the label through its spectacular runway shows. In his first decade at the house, Louis Vuitton’s profits quadrupled.
Critical to Jacobs’ creative strategy were the designer’s hugely successful collaborations with contemporary artists, including Stephen Sprouse (2001), Takashi Murakami (2005), Richard Prince (2007) and Yayoi Kusama (2012), which played with Louis Vuitton’s key brand signifiers: the “LV” logo and famous monogram. The Murakami collaboration alone generated $300 million in sales.
Yet, in recent years, as affluent consumers in highly lucrative and important emerging markets like China matured much faster than expected and began to tire of Louis Vuitton’s now ubiquitous and much-copied signifiers, the brand began to lose some of its high fashion cachet, eroding the label’s high luxury positioning. In response to this growing "logo fatigue," in recent seasons Louis Vuitton has shifted away from its more obvious brand signifiers and refocused its product and communications strategies on craftsmanship and other more discreet branding devices.
In 2012, Louis Vuitton’s sales growth slowed to single digits on the back of sluggish demand in Asia and Europe.
The announcement of Jacobs' departure came only moments after the designer presented his Spring/Summer 2014 collection for Louis Vuitton, an all-black, gothic swan song incorporating sets from his most memorable shows for the brand — including a fountain, dual escalators, and a carousel — around which models paraded in dark, funereal clothes and black, tribal headdresses.
Jacobs’ successor at Louis Vuitton has yet to be named, but French designer Nicolas Ghesquière is widely thought to be the current frontrunner for the role, following what has been an acrimonious separation between the designer and his former employer Kering, owners of the once ailing Balenciaga, which Ghesquière successfully turned into one of the most forward-looking, elite luxury brands in the world, during a 15-year tenure.
Jacobs and his longtime business partner Robert Duffy are said to be preparing for the IPO of the Marc Jacobs label, in which LVMH has 96 percent stake; the group, Jacobs and Duffy each own one-third of the Marc Jacobs trademark. Market sources suggested the public offering would take place within the next three years and, in an interview with WWD, Mr Arnault revealed: “[Marc Jacobs, the brand] has enormous potential all over the world. To materialise this potential, we decided together within the next two or three years, to do an IPO.”
“Marc Jacobs may be the best and most known, successful brand in the US,” continued Arnault, affirming his commitment to further scaling the brand, which, under the guidance of the group and over the course of 16 years, has grown from generating about $20 million in annual sales to almost $1 billion.
“I think and I hope it’s the beginning of a fantastic business story and creative story. It’s already a fantastic creative story,” said Arnault.
The LVMH chairman outlined a high-level roadmap for Marc Jacobs, focusing mainly on fortifying distribution by upgrading and expanding the brand's own network of stores, and growing the product range. The company also plans to reposition and grow diffusion line Marc by Marc Jacobs, which announced two significant appointments this May: Katie Hillier as creative director and Luella Bartley as women's design director.
“We’ve started to reposition Marc by Marc, so we hired a new design team... We’re going to start increasing the collection handbag business and we’re going to start working on distribution. We really have to redefine what we’re doing,” Duffy told WWD.
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a consortium of investors which has a minority stake in The Business of Fashion.