Behind the Louis Vuitton brand: the Marc Jacobs years
Updated: Mar 27
"I always find beauty in things that are odd and imperfect - they are much more interesting" - MARC JACOBS
Labeled the "World's most influential designer" in 2011, Marc Jacobs was the Creative Director at Louis Vuitton for 16 years, from 1997 to 2014, when he stepped down to focus on his own eponymous line. He has been credited with refreshing the French heritage brand by injecting a contemporary flair into its classic designs.
His success may come from the fact that he does not follow the rules: he is anti-establishment, anti-adult and even anti-marketing, at times. His collections were known to bring an element of surprise, taking the mundane and transforming it into something extravagant and unexpected. These values helped Marc Jacobs rejuvenate the LV brand and preserve its heritage with dynamic engagement and modernity.
His time at Louis Vuitton, albeit a professional triumph, brought new struggles to his personal life. He was trapped in a period of heavy drug use, with near-nightly binges of cocaine, heroin and alcohol. These personal troubles, however, seemed only to fuel his creativity: he managed to transform the French trunk maker into a full-scale fashion house, creating sensational runway shows, bringing in collaborators like the renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and quadrupling their business. During the early 2000s, nobody seemed able to capture the zeitgeist and amaze the fashion world like Marc Jacobs, season after season, with his standing-room-only rock-concert-esque fashion shows. Let's take a look at his life and his many contributions to the Louis Vuitton brand through the years.
Who is Marc Jacobs?
While he was certainly passionate about fashion since he was a teen, the American fashion designer began his journey at the Parsons School of Design (now Parsons, The New School for Design) in 1981, after graduating the High School of Art and Design in New York. At Parsons' he stood out among his classmates by winning both the Perry Ellis Gold Thimble Award and Design Student of the Year at graduation in 1984.
Just after graduating, at the age of 21, he designed his first collection for the label Sketchbook for Reuben Thomas. In the same year, with company executive Robert Duffy, he launched Jacobs Duffy Designs Inc. and started designing under his own label, for which he became the youngest designer to win the Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent (1987), one of the industry’s highest honors.
Subsequently in 1988 he was named vice president of women's wear design at Perry Ellis were he gained international recognition for his grunge collection. Inspired by the emerging grunge scene, this 1992 collection featured unorthodox combinations for the time: feminine outfits with combat boots, flower dresses in dark colors paired with tartan patterns. Loved by critics but absolutely hated by the company, Jacobs’s employment with Perry Ellis was promptly terminated in 1993.
With financial backing from his former bosses, in 1993 Jacobs started his own company with longtime business partner Robert Duffy. He relaunched the Marc Jacobs label and debuted a line of menswear the following year to great success.
The Louis Vuitton Years
In 1997, Jacobs opened the first of his numerous boutiques and, in exchange for the financial support of his fashion house, signed on as creative director for Louis Vuitton, where he helped give new life to the brand. Jacobs not only expanded the French brand globally but also designed its first ready-to-wear line in 1998.
His first few collections at LV had a feeling of easy, eminently wearable chic: canvas skirts, trench coats, and jackets stamped with LV's mini-monogram, a far cry from his experimental grunge days.
He also started collaborating with other designers to create some of the brands' most iconic and memorable items. In 2001, the LV logo was re-imagined as a graffiti by contemporary artist Stephen Sprouse. The launch of the Graffiti Speedy, which looks as if it had the company name spray-painted on the canvas, proved immediately successful and it continues to be a highly sought after item for Louis Vuitton enthusiasts everywhere.
In 2003, Jacobs collaborated with Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami to produce one of the most beloved LV collections: the Eye Love Monogram Collection. Murakami replaced the traditionally beige and brown colors of the Monogram Canvas with a multicolored palette and pop up art graphics.
Items from this collection could be spotted on the arm of every it-girl in the early 2000s: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson... The collection was so popular that it was only phased out of stores in the summer of 2015, under the stewardship of then creative director Nicolas Ghesquière.
In 2004 he launched the Louis Vuitton's men’s line, an experiment in comparing between the metrosexual dandy and the sporty moo, mixing the elegance of the tennis players suits from the 30s, printed silk robes and high tech fabrics.
From the mid 2000s, Jacobs switched from minimalism to an over the top opulence, taking inspiration from different decades of fashion. This was probably his most creative and memorable era under the Louis Vuitton label.
For his Spring/Summer collection in 2009, Jacobs took inspiration from Paris of the 40s: a Deco-era palette sparkled up with showgirl glints of metallic python and crystal; and the 80s: leather necklaces and belts came fashioned like paper chains, and thigh boots were topped with ruffles and balanced on pearl and glitter-covered heels.
In his 2010 ready-to-wear Fall Collection, Jacobs took inspiration from the 30s, 50s and 60s for the silhouettes and paired it with bouncy ponytails, clean makeup; and square-toed, block-heeled pumps trimmed with flat bows. A look that wouldn't look out of place in an episode of Mad Men but with a French spin.
For his 2012 Spring Collection, full of winsome broderie anglaise, frothy feathers, puffed drop-waist skirts, crocodile pumps, and fairy-tale tiaras, Jacobs was envisioning something “fragile but strong.” The accessories also got more feminine: new basket bags, transparent voile Lockits, a plumped and softened Speedy. Even the standard gold hardware was replaced in favor of more girlish sterling silver.
For the 2013 collection, Vuitton's famous Damier provided the template for the checks - both large and small: shapes reminiscent of the 60's, bright yellows and greens, oversized floral prints. Shoes were relatively low and pointed and handbags came in a variety of structured iterations, all were finished with LV's signature Damier checks.
In 2014, Marc Jacobs stepped down as creative director of Louis Vuitton in order to concentrate on his own line. Although rumors have circulated that LV had difficulties with the designer’s reported erratic behavior, they praised the outgoing designer, congratulated him and his team for everything they have done for the brand.
Clothing wise, his last collection was decidingly a return to his roots: 90s punk mohawk wigs made of feathers, black leather jackets and cool sparkly logoed tights. Jacobs dedicated the collection to the many women who've touched or influenced him during his decade and a half in Paris, including designer muses Coco Chanel, Rei Kawakubo, and Miuccia Prada.
During his sixteen years at Louis Vuitton, Jacobs managed to identify and attract a new type of urban woman, who mixed uptown glamour with downtown attitude, and reshape the boundaries of the LV brand to resonate with newer, younger audiences.
With his sometimes unorthodox designs, Jacobs reversed the fortunes of Louis Vuitton but he also may have caused some scandals along the way and he didn't completely shy from a little provocation either. The cult of Vuitton lives on because of Jacobs's creative reimagining of the brand and the monogrammed creations he has gifted us over sixteen splendid years.