From Dimes Square to Dalston, Heaven by Marc Jacobs is on the radar of all the girls, gays and theys. It brings grunge-inspired garms to the masses, utilising star-studded campaigns, pop culture, and a suckerpunch load of teenage angst – and the it-crowd just can’t get enough of it. Behind the brand’s success is a well thought out and carefully-carved identity that resonates strongly with the TikTok-savvy Gen-Z scene, but it’s more than a mere marketing tactic.
Heaven was launched in 2020 by the legendary designer Marc Jacobs and the Australian-born, New York-based writer, photographer, stylist and designer Ava Nirui. While Jacobs has been at the forefront of culturally relevant fashion for decades, Niuri attracted the attention of Jacobs through her contemporary bootleg “Mark Jacobes” hoodies, which led to the pair working together back in 2017 for an official bootleg-esque release. Nirui’s tongue-in-cheek takes on luxury fashion and wide-reaching creative network perfectly positioned her for the role of Creative Director, introducing retro nods to late ‘80s and early ‘90s music and style subcultures to a new generation.
Of course, this influence is nothing new for Jacobs, who has created grunge collections in the past. Back in 1993, the designer created a collection for the sportswear brand Perry Ellis, which saw a host of models, including Kate Moss, don beanie hats with plaid shirts wrapped around their waists, paired with graphic tees and patterned skirts in a rag-tag display of grungy cool. In retrospect, it exemplified Jacobs’ ability to tap into the ‘90s zeitgeist and dominate and direct trends.
However, at the time, the collection was as provocative as the subculture that inspired it, being cancelled before it went into production (although, samples were given to Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love – sick, we know). This cost the designer his gig at Perry Ellis, although there is some discussion around whether this was agreed upon before the collection, with the brand wanting out of the womenswear business, so an initially poorly received show may have served as a catalyst for Jacobs’ departure.
Now, Jacobs channels the energy of the 1993 collection into his own sublabel. Heaven by Marc Jacobs nails nostalgia with its own brand of grunge – think grommet belts, obnoxiously wedgy wedged Kiki Boots and colourful babydoll tees. It livens up the typically muted palette with an in-your-face pop of colour reminiscent of a packet of Skittles (which there is always a generous-sized bowl of in its retail stores).
Jacobs’ experience allows him to recreate this subculture for today’s Gen-Z audience (albeit in a more accessible and less underground approach), tapping into the mindset of the brand’s army of cultural explorers desperate to sink their teeth into some ‘90s-inspired clobber. With one foot firmly rooted in the past, the brand has the other Margaret Boot-wearing foot planted in the now. It perfectly quenches the current thirst for alt post-Y2K fashion.
The influences are all around us. For example, Rapper Lil Uzi Vert has captured the attention of a new wave of fashion-conscious fans with his alt style that he embraced as part of his Opium era. JENCO jeans, belt chains, and red-dyed spiky hair all form part of his now-signature look, which sees the musician dress more like a Tokyo scene kid from the late ‘90s than a 2020s rapper. Of course, Heaven already knew this, featuring the musician in a campaign which saw him don zip-up hoodies, layered denim and heavy silver jewellery.
Searches for this alternative, subculturally-rooted style are at an all-time high. The #fruitsmagazine tag has over 56.6 million views on TikTok, reflective of a new generation’s yearning to explore the underground-style tribes of yesteryear. FRUiTS Magazine was a Japanese monthly fashion publication founded by Shoichi Aoki. In its issues, it shone a light on the colour-clashing, wild-hairstyle-wearing, trend-setting fashion kids of Tokyo – where Marc Jacobs was a regular feature.
Heaven furthered its authentic exploration of this countercultural trend by producing a lookbook shot by Aoki in 2020. This only bolstered the brand’s reputation in the eyes of today’s TikTok-native consumers by referencing and collaborating with original tastemakers and trailblazers of the scene. According to market research company GWI, our “fondness of the past is most prevalent in their music and fashion preferences, with ‘90s music their second favourite genre.” FRUiTS and Heaven is a match made in, erm, well heaven, with the Japanese publication laying the blueprint for the kind of style-meets-subculture melding championed by the brand.
Heaven designs clothes for today and nods to the past, with campaigns featuring a range of talent from bedroom pop princesses PinkPantheress and Beabadoobee, to muse and all-around fashion legend Kate Moss. Mia Khalifa fronted a Heaven campaign in an attitude-filled farm girl display, showcasing the brand’s Daisy Tank dress, denim shoulder bag and Kiki Cowboy Boots. Khalifa is known for being unapologetically herself, with an openness and witty sense of humour (seen through slogan tees which read “insecure men”) that shines through in all that she does. This, combined with her it-girl status, feels at home for the Heaven brand and is enough to send any fan scrambling to empty their bank accounts.
Model and musician Gabbriette fronted the uber-cool Heaven x Kiko Kostadinov campaign and has since been featured in more, bringing her pencil-thin brows and intoxicating nonchalance to the brand. While aesthetically very Heaven, the online star speaks to Gen-Z in more ways than one. Her food reviews are in contrast to her “fashion bitch” campaign shots which merge together on the star’s Instagram. This seemingly incoherent social media display is exactly what Gen-Z engage with most, and shows a relatability that translates perfectly into a brand like Heaven. By featuring personalities who resonate with Gen-Z, Heaven is able to further engage with its fan base through campaigns that feel relevant and of the moment.
Likewise, Paris Hilton recently promoted the label’s it-girl-approved CUFFZ bag, which accents a dainty nylon handbag with an on-brand rough-and-ready handcuff chain. Hilton encapsulates Heaven’s wide-reaching appeal that goes beyond grunge, striking a chord with Gen-Z with her modern relevance and hearty dose of Y2K nostalgia, which is fitting for a generation that is “19% more likely than other generations to say they prefer to think about the past rather than the future,” per GWI.
As part of this retrospective approach towards style and music culture, Gen-Z seeks out shared experiences IRL. In March this year, we saw the release of Heaven by Marc Jacobs x Deftones, which featured a collaboration with Stray Rats. Accompanying the collection was a Deftones show in Los Angeles, which gave an experience beyond clothing. The campaign featured Deftones fans, both young and old, helping foster the sense of community our generation craves through shared hobbies, clothing, and experiences.
Thus, Heaven’s appeal extends beyond its wide-reaching celebrity allure. In 2022, the brand announced its first-ever archive sale with an animation from artist Lord Stingray titled “Hero.” Vintage video game-style visuals showed a Heaven shopper leave the store in a fictional neon city, skating down the street, sticking tre flips and a gravity-defying backside tail slide on a curved handrail.
The character is later hit by a truck and enters another realm, with his Heaven clothing turning him into a fighter player ready to take on any challenge. Not only is it a captivating form of entertainment in itself, but this style of marketing also shows that the brand really knows its audience, an age group where 90% are game enthusiasts – which, when combined with a love of nostalgia and a catchy electronic backing track, creates the perfect storm.
The Marc Jacobs and Ava Niuri-led brand doesn’t just rely on flashy ads and online marketing. It has crafted a memorable in-store experience that nods to the subcultures it represents, most recently celebrating girlhood with its London-based Sandy Liang pop-up. Heaven’s stores are the teenage bedrooms we dreamed of, with the London location decked out with a pink hanging skateboard swing, plush barbed wire cushions, and an Aphex Twin “Windowlicker” calendar pinned to the wall winding back the years to the pre-Internet age, creating a positive in-person experience, and furthering this nostalgic longing.
In both its LA and London stores, it stocks Isabella Burley’s Climax Books – a curation of hard-to-find printed matter and VHS tapes that delve into the themes of erotica, anthologies, and books on art, photography and counter-culture. Also on the rails are vintage gems courtesy of Jerks Store, the South London-based vintage emporium that sources the rare T-shirts seen on those annoyingly cool (and slightly scary) couples that can club ‘till 7 am and be out drinking coffee by 10. These additions present Heaven’s influences and inspiration for its wearers to see – strengthening the bond between the label and its customers, showcasing a lifestyle beyond the brand that everyone wants to be a part of.
From its buzzy, celebrity-filled campaigns to subcultural explorations and store experiences like no other, Heaven by Marc Jacobs has gripped Gen-Z by aligning with its interests. While feeling like an IYKYK brand and being anything but, the label is a Bible of what’s good, seen in its support of culture-shaping sellers in its physical stores and its IRL music events and parties which have featured performances from Charlie XCX and Doja Cat, bolstering its sense of community.
The brand taps into our love of nostalgia in a way that feels current and of the moment, bringing our teenage fantasies to life, leading Gen-Z fashion trends with a tangible connection to the past. It really is a Gen Z’s Heaven (by Marc Jacobs).
Cover image: @daisy.ltd ©
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