Can Marc Jacobs return to its glory days of being cool?

It has been only a year
since Marc by Marc Jacobs presented its AW14 collection under the debut
creative leadership of Brit duo Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley. Monday’s
announcement that the label was to be merged with the mainline came as
somewhat of a surprise to the industry. Marc Jacobs’ parent company LVMH,
with much fanfare, has put in considerable capital and effort to revamp the
ailing line. On both creative and commercial levels, these are two big
departures in a very short time.

With just three seasons under Hillier and Bartley’s belts there must have
been rumblings behind the scenes both with investors and the Marc Jacobs
‘family’ as he likes to call them, in order to shutter the collection
altogether and re-focus the Marc Jacobs International company.

With 200 stores worldwide, under-performing lines leave a lot at
stake

With over 200 stores worldwide, the portfolio including Jacobs’ mainline,
diffusion line, childrenswear, accessories and book stores, there is plenty
at stake if a collection doesn’t perform. Even more so if the brand image
is not cohesive. It will come as no surprise that the Marc Jacobs label
suffered during his tenure at Louis Vuitton. It’s difficult to head three
brands, no matter how talented a designer Jacobs is or how savvy his
business partner Robert Duffy. Louis Vuitton was always going to require
their primary focus.

Having worked for LVMH and Marc Jacobs, the difference between 2003 when I
was part of the team that launched the Marc by Marc Jacobs brand in Europe
and what it is today, are polar opposites. Back then retailers and buyers
would queue outside the showroom in Milan, the high minimum orders were not
an issue when on show was the must-have have diffusion collection of the
season. The import duties, the late deliveries drops, the prices –
retailers were willing to accept any terms – something that is unheard of
in today’s over-subscribed world of commercial fashion. But the collection
no longer resonates the same way.

Back in 2013 Robert Duffy said of the appointment of Hillier and Bartley:
“The competition has become too great. We have an issue with the
ready-to-wear. I knew it because I pay very close attention to
company-owned retail stores and I knew what was happening. We started out
really strong in denim, and then we just let it go. We rested on our
laurels and it hurt us.”

When Jacobs and Duffy exited Louis Vuitton, it was largely seen as a double
boost for both his namesake brand and Louis Vuitton. Stepping down from
Vuitton meant Jacobs could accelerate his own brand’s development, which
sees annual sales of about 1 billion dollars. At the time rumours of a
possible IPO in 2016 were swirling around, but were unconfirmed.

Duffy retired from the day to day runnings of the brand last autumn and new
CEO Sebastian Suhl took over. A new CEO will always change the landscape of
the business. Suhl told Womenswear Daily that there is a big opportunity
for the new single label business at the “core price range” of Marc by Marc
and also a lot of scope in the space where Marc by Marc prices finished
before entry prices to mainline started.

Jacobs was once hailed as the king of grunge and downtown New York chic.
The Marc by Marc Jacobs was the little sister to mainline, it was quirky,
individual, but always very New York. The model army sent down the runway
by Hillier and Bartley at their debut outing may have been fresh and novel,
but it felt more relevant to their Shoreditch clique than to the brand
values of MJ.

Jacobs stated: “I want to make incredible fashion. I want to figure out a
way to make that incredible fashion available to people on different levels
. It just feels like we aren’t doing that job by showing two different
collections with two different messages.”

Jacobs’ brand will surely come out the other end of the tunnel, still cool,
still relevant. After 30 years in the business, Jacobs has overcome more
than his share of hurdles; public failure from his dismissal at Perry
Ellis, near bankruptcy when he founded his own label with Duffy, not to
mention his substance-abuse issues. He has done nothing less than raise the
luxury brand Louis Vuitton from the ashes, so merging his collections under
one umbrella seems like a sensible and cool thing to do. The commercial
success will inevitable follow.
Images: Marc Jacobs, Marc by Marc Jacobs

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