As we inch closer to the inevitable appointment of Louis Vuitton‘s new Creative Director, we wanted to take one more nostalgic look back at the past sixteen years of this fashion powerhouse. One more nod of appreciation at the commercial know-how underlying Vuitton’s success, which is often overlooked; and one more sneaky set of dreamy sighs at the past thirty-two RTW collections, which was the brainchild of Vuitton’s first ever Artistic Director, Marc Jacobs.
About one year ago, I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit the Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs Retrospective exhibition at the Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris. When I say my jaw was open with wonder the whole time, I really am not exaggerating. Nor was I the only one. From casual tourists wandering in for some culture; to little girls (read: future Vuitton loyalists) accompanying their stylish Parisian mothers, it didn’t matter the audience. It was an undeniably impressive show.
To the naked eye, it was difficult not to be impressed by the extravagant displays. We all marvelled at the roof-reaching white blonde afro wigs, the caged (high fashion!) fetish fur vests, and of course the floor to ceiling wall displays of Vuitton’s signature luggage and leather goods, from its inception in 1854 to today.
For a girl brought up in a household where Louis Vuitton was a staple, I’m not going to lie. It got a bit emotional.
What all the exhibition goers learned was that Marc Jacobs is brilliant, innovative and ground-breaking in the land of fashion design, but what the fashion enthusiasts and fashion industry delegates would have come to understand is that behind it all, is an industry rarity: a designer that is both creatively and commercially intuitive.
In January 1997, after months of speculation and negotiations, Marc Jacobs was appointed as Louis Vuitton’s first Creative Director. He was to be in charge of the brand’s signature leather goods line and to lead the design team for the Company’s first Ready-To-Wear collection. During his sixteen year tenure, Marc never once tried to change the essence of this legacy fashion house. He merely elevated the spirit of the Vuitton brand by consistently applying a current day edge to his designs, look after look, runway after runway, season after season.
In 2002, LVMH (Louis Vuitton’s parent company) stated in its Annual Report that the group’s strategy was to “develop its star brands” and that “growth achieved by our flagship brands (is) at the heart of everything that we do”. In non-shiny, non-business suit talk, this meant that LVMH would place brands such as Louis Vuitton, Moet & Chandon and Tag Heuer in the centre of their group strategy, while nurturing other long-term ambitions to grow into future ‘star brands’.
In fact, ten years ago, Marc Jacobs International was only one of these baby rising star brands! With his own label, Marc was free to run things as he wished.
Back at Louis Vuitton however, Marc understood that he was hired primarily because the brand needed to begin forging a relationship with the up and coming population of high net worth individuals (or the “HNWI”s, if you want to talk like the cool kids). This goal was effective immediately, in order to ensure a long term relationship exists in the coming years. It is important for luxury brands (especially for luxury brands) because the success of this type of business relies on a relationship with its core customers and brand loyalty. What made this task a little bit more complicated was that Marc also had to ensure that he didn’t alienate the existing Vuitton clientele.
If that paragraph wasn’t a mouthful enough to read, try being Marc Jacobs in 1997 and actually having to execute this task.
But Marc being Marc, one of our generation’s leading fashion designers; four-time CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year; and Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, achieved it all in one fowl swoop. And then some.
In 2003, when Marc was well and truly the captain at Vuitton’s creative helm, LVMH’s Annual Report highlighted that “the strong momentum at Louis Vuitton was one of the essential drivers of growth, exemplified by the huge success of the creative partnership between Marc Jacobs and Takashi Murakami”.
The Vuitton and Murakami collaboration, instrumented by Marc, was called an “extraordinary magnet for contemporary energy”. What was genius in all this was not just the pretty design. It was that Marc Jacobs understood the rising power of the Japanese luxury market and capitalised on it. The rewards was very evident both in Vuitton’s refreshed reputation amongst the younger age group, and most importantly when it comes to business, at the bottom of the company’s profit and loss financial statement.
By 2012, fifteen years under his direction, the LVMH fashion and leather goods business division had increased its revenue takings by 175%*. Though not all this can be attributed to Louis Vuitton, it can be safely assumed that the Vuitton would have had a considerable impact on this increase.
As we saw at Marc Jacobs’ final Louis Vuitton show this past Wednesday, his runways over the past thirty-two seasons have been anything but ordinary. From vintage elevators, mid-flight escalators, haunting carousels and Parisian-chic fountains, we have always been given a show.
We have also seen the whole spectrum of A-list celebrities and supermodels in Vuitton’s campaigns under Marc, from the likes of Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, Michelle Williams, Uma Thurman, Giselle Bundchen, Elle Macpherson, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Catherine McNeill, Claudia Schiffer, Natalia Vodianova, Lara Stone, Angela Lindvall and Gemma Ward. All oh so chic, as we would expect from Vuitton’s DNA, but always a little quirky, as we always love from Marc.
So Monsieur Jacobs, in the spirit of your Fall 2011 military fetish fabulousness, we salute you and thank you for the last thirty two ever memorable Ready-to-Wear Louis Vuitton shows.
Here’s to the showgirl in all of us.[youtube id=”igmtA_yKUH8″ width=”600″ height=”350″]
*Data only from 2001 as LVMH has only publically published its financial data from 2001
All photos from the Louis Vuitton Facebook Page