Marc Jacobs certainly took center stage late last year with his sudden departure from the house of Louis Vuitton. While Jacobs and LVMH said it was a mutual decision as Jacobs would prepare his namesake label for a public offering, there were loud rumors that the decision had been made by Bernard Arnault (Chairman & CEO of LVMH) himself. Hoping, as the rumor goes, that a new creative director would bring a newfound direction for this massive fashion brand that was feeling less than exciting in the last few seasons. Jacobs certainly is no stranger to headlines, attention, and dramatic decisions - so who left who? - who can say. It is certain that Marc Jacobs became a celebrity around the world after taking the helm of the fabled house of LV in 1997 as LVMH purchased a majority stake in Jacobs own brand. This sleepy legend of monogram travel bags would become the biggest logo brand in the world under Jacobs direction. Who would have ever guessed one hundred years ago that resin coated vinyl would come to represent the world of luxury handbags? Truth is stranger than fiction. While Jacobs became rich and famous via LV, his namesake label would become known more for the quirky accessories of his lower price line - Marc Marc Jacobs, often made from plastic, and too often made in China. Lines would form down the block from Jacobs's boutiques, with young girls desperate to get their hands on rubber boots, plastic lipstick pens, and tote bags plastered with Marc, Marc Jacobs in every color of the rainbow. (T-shirts and beach towels also became hot items for the fashion flock picking up 5 and 10 at a time leading up to Summer and Winter holidays).
Now, with more time on his hands the Marc Jacobs label could get the much needed attention it deserves. It is one of the coolest brands around, but hardly garners the attention at retail that the "it" girl following, the ultra hip ad campaign, and the global network of stores would normally guarantee. Before LVMH came into his life, Jacobs and business partner Robert Duffy were carving out a name for the designer as one of the few American luxury brands. In the late 90's his handbags would sell out of Bergdorf Goodman faster than they could be produced by talented artisans in Italy. Once LV was in the picture, things changed. Of course, it all makes sense. Louis Vuitton was more than a side job or freelance gig for Jacobs. The number of collections, campaigns, and contractual responsibilities that comes with running a global luxury brand would create a challenge for anyone to multi-task. After all, Karl Lagerfeld himself has been challenged in making his namesake brand a retail success. The Lagerfeld label has had more re-launches (and flops) than the Friday the 13th movie franchise.. but with much less profit to show for it - but maybe as much bloodshed.. (I knew people who gave us great jobs to work at Lagerfeld only to be fired a few months later when He and Tommy Hilfiger pulled the plug. (Hilfiger had signed a deal with Karl to distribute Lagerfeld in the U.S. - I know.. REALLY?). Karl also famously bought back his label for 1 French Franc in the late 90's after it failed to turn a profit.
The departure of Jacobs from Louis Vuitton also occurred in the shadow of the biggest news maker of all the American Designers. Or course I'm talking about the unprecedented and unpredictable success of Mr. Michael Kors. Since going public in late 2011, Kors company went from just another American brand with fabrics that were quality questionable, to a multi-billion dollar global empire selling "ode to Rolex" watches and "ode to Chanel" handbags. With a deep pocketed financing plan similar to that of Tommy Hilfiger, overnight Kors became THE accessory to have for every working girl from San Francisco to Sri Lanka. Today, with just over two years as a public company, Kors business has an estimated value of $15 Billion Dollars. Staggering!!
Both Kors and Jacobs are from New York, (Jacobs born in the City and raised in New Jersey, Kors born and raised on Long Island) but the two are cut from very different clothes. Michael Kors is loved by all and is instantly likable. You would be hard pressed to find anyone with bad things to say about Kors who is always the life of the party - wherever he goes. Michael loves the retail business and has spent an endless about of time in the stores at his trunk shows over the years. (too often a rarity these days). Whether he is in a store, In the critic's chair on Project Runway, or on-line on Sunday mornings buying the New York Times off the boat ferry at his Summer house at the beach- Kors is that same likable guy. Marc Jacobs is not that guy. Marc is the prince with the Prada bag and matching coat that you just want to pinch-hard. While Kors surrounds himself with peers his own age, leading ladies of Hollywood, and former and current heads of state, Jacobs is more likely to be hanging out (or dating) guys half his age on a beach in Rio or Miami. The two personalities are like night and day.
Of course Michael Kors did not become a billionaire overnight. The designer worked year after year, re-launched again and again, all the while dressing key Hollywood celebrities. Kors was also the creative director of French fashion house Celine from 1997 to 2004 - the first ever Creative Director of women's RTW for the fabled French House. Still, it did not make him a household name. It wasn't until Michael was wooed by reality TV and joined the cringe worthy Heidi Klum and her Project (of doom) Runway that fame came calling. (It's a sad commentary to note that in order to get the attention of serious financial investors, Kors had to first do the most pedestrian project around). Even in a medium way beneath his talents -reality schlock- Kors Shined. His one-liner critiques could destroy a contestant, but make them leave smiling. His comments were funny and biting, but not destructive or mean. One of the best was his reaction to a dress with a messy train.. " She looks like she's pooping fabric"...it said it all.. and who could hate that guy?
Bravo to Michael Kors for all his success, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. I just wish to become super rich he could have run a business more like Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and less like Tommy Hilfiger at (the hot mess of a Ralph Lauren knock off label that is) Hilfiger. But who can blame Kors? Many public companies related to fashion or not have followed the same formula. Moving production to China and promoting questionable quality accessories as "Luxury" is unfortunately nothing new these days.
However, there is one big difference between Marc Jacobs as he reportedly prepares to go public and Michael Kors when he did the same. Marc Jacobs is already a very rich man and has run one of the biggest luxury brands in the world. Kors on the other hand was not rich beyond his wildest dreams, and had not run a European luxury house when investors came calling. Marc Jacobs doesn't need the money or the prestige. Of course he wants the money - who doesn't, but he doesn't need to follow the typical formula if he doesn't want to.
I think Marc Jacobs dreams of taking over the tweed at CHANEL the day Karl retires. Jacobs references the collection season after season after season... it's hardly subtle. Waiting for Karl to leave however might require quite a bit of patience. Lagerfeld is the most powerful over 80 year old in the world - why would he retire? Fashion is clearly his life.
So, all eyes are on Marc Jacobs. I'm crossing my fingers he'll give us luxury like we haven't seen before from an American designer. The world doesn't need another brand of "stuff" with logos on it - don't you think? The CFDA could use a world famous designer of true luxury goods based in NYC. After all, Tom Ford is hardly a New Yorker!
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