KING OF COLLABORATIONS: HOW MARC JACOBS OPENED LOUIS VUITTON UP TO THE STREETS

KING OF COLLABORATIONS: HOW MARC JACOBS OPENED LOUIS VUITTON UP TO THE STREETS

by Jason Owusu-Frimpong
9 min
Ibn Jasper©

Last week, creative consultant, stylist – and Kanye West’s barber – Ibn Jasper paid homage to the genius that is Marc Jacobs. He posted personal images of himself and Marc – along with the likes of Pharrell and Kanye – intently consulting one another on projects, embracing backstage at shows, and vibing in studios. The photos look like they were all taken in different settings, from Paris to New York. He captioned the IG post: “Marc Jacobs is the person who opened Paris up to the streets”. It was a gentle reminder that the streets were never far from Marc during his tenure as creative director at Louis Vuitton. Arguably, he has been the most prolific artistic director at LV. With his marketable vision and social influence he transformed LV into the most profitable luxury business ever. All without the help of today’s social media PR machines. With boundless creativity and drive, he sealed himself as an unorthodox, cultural innovator.

 

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It made all of us at CULTED reminisce and recall the impact Marc made as an unconventional designer and collaborator in the early to late 2000s. He’s somewhat underrated, when you consider how much he did to innovate and diversify luxury fashion. For Marc, the fashion games of elitism, inaccessible heritage and mediocrity were like constrictive chains. Using street culture, rap music, art and encounters with people – Marc closed the gap in the creative hierarchy. He intertwined all facets of life to relate to the streets and people worldwide – from Tokyo to London.

Fast forward to today; the ripple effect is still felt. Collabs are now commonplace in fashion. Decades after Jacobs’ pioneering moves, it’s almost something we expect. There’s now the signature streetwear crossover: Take 2017 Louis Vuitton collaboration with Supreme – creative directed by Kim Jones, for example. There’s now also the artistic alliance in fashion: i.e. leading pop and contemporary artist Jeff Koons (a close friend of Jacobs’) and his hand painted showcase of the renaissance art “Masters” in 2018. Pieces by Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Monet and more on were repainted on Louis Vuitton handbags. 

Louis Vuitton©, Supreme©

That’s not all of Marc Jacobs’ legacy. His designs perfectly reflected the progressive time they were in. A time before the guidance of copy paste social media marketing. No IG algorithms or easy-bake PR boxes. It was where rappers used extravagance to express themselves in high-budget music videos. A prime-time slot for your MTV video was everything. The fashion had to be all or nothing. So, it wasn’t rare to see your favourite rapper alongside beautiful amazonian goddesses in two-pieces draped by furs, toting Louis Vuitton monogram trunks and luggage, with bottles of Cristal* and Jacob (now Jacob & Co.) the Jeweler’s finest diamonds were almost uniform for rappers on the scene during those years. Marc understood the language, or at least made efforts to speak it.

Marc Jacobs made it that way by welcoming rappers and leaders of pop culture to the world of fashion. When other designers were still on the fence, he bridged a gap that has brought about a symbiotic relationship between rap cultures street credibility and fashion. High fashion was now accessible, as Jacobs was too. I’ll explain…

You might remember (and if you’re too young to remember, now is your time to get educated) when the newly signed and revealed, audacious and full-of-bravado Kanye West came on the scene in ‘04? He referred to himself as the “Louis Vuitton Don” on his debut album. College Dropout right? You remember his famous LV backpacks that he took everywhere? Well, it happened. And yep, you guessed it. Marc Jacobs was at the helm of Louis Vuitton then, and for many years after. 

It’s also no surprise that Kanye and Marc got along so well. Marc was only 20 when he was given his own line. Even years after at Louis Vuitton, he was still intimidated by the prestige of the art world, yet wanting so badly to translate his love for it into his work. Ye’ was someone that everyone had labelled as “the producer”, and got his rapping break at 27. We’ve all seen firsthand his creative frustrations and his push for inclusion with Yeezy (funnily enough Kanye is currently the same age as Marc during his peak at Louis Vuitton). They were bound to understand each other. Both were breaking ground, bringing creative worlds together, and encouraging others to do the same. They also were under a lot of pressure to prove their excellence. For Marc, LVMH’s Bernard Arnault had bet big on the fearless New Yorker. For Kanye, Jay Z had taken him from producer to rapper, making him a member of Roc-a-Fella, with a heavy branded chain to match the heavy responsibility. 

Kanye and Marc’s friendship became a full circle moment years later. ‘Ye was given the opportunity to work alongside Jacobs, creating the Kanye West x Louis Vuitton Don “Multi”, “Mr Hudson” and “Jasper” sneaker, the latter named after Ibn Jasper himself. The designs featured a variety of  electric pink soles, a choice of grey or brown cushioned suedes, read leathers and tasselled shoelaces. You’ve won the lottery if you can get your hands on a pair today. Some pairs fetch for as high as $9,0000 (£6,370). 

Louis Vuitton©

The same was the case for Pharrell. In 2007, he was called upon by Jacobs – along with A Bathing Ape’s Nigo –  to design the intricately flamboyant original Louis Vuitton Millionaire Sunglasses. They went on to become a staple for Pharrell’s artsy and well-cultured street style. Though they’re hard to find – and hard to style – Virgil only recently came out with the 1.1 Millionaires during his premiere as Louis Vuitton’s menswear designer.

Bag to Bag: Marc’s consistent reinvention of the LV monogram bag

If you don’t know Marc Jacobs for anything else, you know him for envisioning the most aesthetically desirable Louis Vuitton bags. The monogram LV bag – which had been unchanged since the 19th century – became Jacobs’ canvas. A canvas to restructure, re-stitch and design. Over and over, season after season. Jacobs kept it unpredictable and refreshing. All without losing the romanticism of Louis Vuitton’s craftsmanship.  

Take the cult, multi-coloured monogram bags for example. He employed the help of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. With an art style rooted in whimsical anime and lighthearted contemporary styles, Murakami helped to revamp, revive and bring vibrance to the LV bag, in 36 different colours! It wasn’t long before this bag was wanted everywhere. Still to this day, the bags look modern and en vogue, and can fetch for as high as 38,000 ($53,659).

How does this relate to the rap game you ask? Murakami went on to collaborate with Mr. West and Skateboy P and a number of projects, from album artworks, to merch and books. It was always six degrees of separation, Jacobs at the top.

Who can forget Jacobs’ sculpture-like metallic silver limited edition bags! Pharrell and Naomi Campbell playfully fought over this bag when it debuted on the runway. Then of course, there was the disruptive graffiti print era, in collaboration with the late designer and artist Stephen Sprouse. Sprouse’s name, and famous rose stencils were repeatedly emblazoned on a variety of pieces, including the monogram. Jacobs infiltrated LV’s prim and proper values with his grungy roots. 

Louis Vuitton©

Each collaboration and its concept have played an integral part in culture. You can almost remember where you were when you first set your eyes on Jacobs’ masterpieces. Ultimately, Jacobs redefined art, making it desirable and  consumable, putting it on every girl’s arm and around every guy’s waist. He took the sculptures away from the white walled galleries, taking it out of its high brow box and marketing it to the world. 

Why was he so good at resonating with the streets, regardless of what area or industry? One of his favourite artists Elizabeth Peyton believed it was because he was in control of the culture. “He’s so in tune with culture, he’s making and remaking culture”, she said of him at the time. Essentially, he knew how to champion unheard voices and appreciate the unappreciated – from artists, to musicians, to groups in society. It must’ve been the New Yorker in him. Seeing the diversity of the American Dream manifested in a melting pot of people would do that to you. 

His impact isn’t lost on us, just look at the creative approach of Kim Jones and Virgil Abloh. Then look at the resale prices of Mr. Jacob’s designs!

*FYI, This was of course before Cristal publicly denounced their affiliation with rap music, despite the champagne brands popularity in the industry. It left rappers like Jay Z and Diddy no choice, but to make their own. Along came Jay’s Armand de Brignac’s Ace of Spades!

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