ARTICLE CHRISTOPHER BARNARD
THIS MONTH, LES ARTS DÉCORATIFS CELEBRATES LOUIS VUITTON'S NAMESAKE AND SUPER-DESIGNER MARC JACOBS WITH AN EXHIBITION OF THEIR GREATEST HITS
“We were shocked and happy, of course, but totally freaked out,” recalls Marc Jacobs when asked about his appointment to be the artistic director of Louis Vuitton back in 1997. “We had done a few test projects for them [LVMH], not knowing where it would end up. They chose us, and we were in no position to disagree.”
That first collection, a tabula rasa of gray and white, was a conscious erasure of anything that Vuitton had done up to that moment—a zeroing of the previous design sum (mostly brown monogrammed trunks for wealthy travelers). It was a gutsy move, and one that would cement Jacobs’s reputation as the rabble-rouser brought in to shake up the otherwise austere label.
Fifteen years later, through numerous collaborations, star campaign turns, and awe-inspiring collections, Jacobs (along with his longtime business partner, Robert Duffy) has continued to build a legacy worth celebrating. This March, Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris will honor both the designer and the brand’s founder in a special two-story exhibit entitled “Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs.” With a floor devoted to each, the exhibit tells the parallel stories of Vuitton and Jacobs while examining fashion through two important eras—19th-century industrialization and 21st-century globalization. It will blend the luxurious, old-world details of the brand with Jacobs’s contemporary, madcap creations.
“There is no incredible ’70s archive, no amazing ’50s archive to look to for inspiration,” remarks Jacobs. “In a way we had to create a woman...at least outside of what she was carrying.” The results proved to be both creatively and financially compelling, as the Jacobs-helmed Vuitton has seen a quadrupling of profits and queues snaked around its global flagships. His ability to attract art-world all-stars, such as Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince, to the design realm established the kind of product that has appealed to a new Vuitton customer. And the sultry, slick campaigns featuring Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Uma Thurman lent the right amount of celebrity sheen to liven up the classic company. Running the gamut from Monsieur Vuitton’s original trunks to Jacobs’s bags adorned with Sprouse’s neon graffiti and Murakami’s cartoonish cherry blossoms, the exhibition reveals the ongoing story of two innovators, each rooted in his respective country, who have advanced an entire industry. “We’ve had good seasons, we’ve had bad seasons, but we never didn’t put everything into it,” says the designer.