Has Marc Jacobs gone out of fashion?

A look from Marc Jacobs’ fall 2018 collection.
A look from Marc Jacobs’ fall 2018 collection. PHOTO: NYTIMES
The designer (above) has been nominated for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s top prize – womenswear designer of the year.
The designer (above) has been nominated for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s top prize – womenswear designer of the year.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Can Marc Jacobs still continue to make his mark in fashion? On the surface, it seems nothing is unravelling from the seams.

After all, when the movers and shakers gather tonight at the Brooklyn Museum for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awards, he is again up for the top prize - womenswear designer of the year, as he has been every year since 2013, winning in 2016.

But that nod comes as a puzzle to anyone following his career closely in the past few years.

There was a time when he attracted a new urban woman, one who mixed downtown attitude and uptown glamour. Now, there is a sense that he has lost his way.

Last year, while responding to questions about the business environment during the United States Donald Trump presidency, Mr Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, which owns a controlling stake in the Marc Jacobs fashion house, said: "I'm more concerned about (the label) than the US President."

Mr Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas, estimated that Marc Jacobs had been losing more than US$60 million (S$80 million) annually for the past few years.

The company has also closed dozens of stores in Europe and New York.

Then, there is the exit of Mr Robert Duffy, regarded as the "driving force" behind the label's rise.

Over the decades, he was Jacobs' business partner and his tireless champion and, in 1997, orchestrated LVMH's investment in Marc Jacobs.

But he stepped down from his leading role in 2015.

For more than two decades, ever since he dressed models in flannel for his 1992 grunge collection for Perry Ellis, Jacobs had been regarded as the most exciting American designer of his generation.

In 1997, he took on the role of creative director at Louis Vuitton. With the powerful backing of LVMH, Jacobs and Mr Duffy took the Marc Jacobs brand global.

But Jacobs' erratic behaviour - including announcing he was entering rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse, a very public relationship with a former porn star and accidentally posting a photo of his bare bottom to Instagram - continued to raise concerns about his ability to run a large company.

In 2014, Jacobs stepped down from his role at Louis Vuitton after 16 years, ostensibly to allow him to concentrate on his own label ahead of a planned initial public offering.

For years, he seemed to know exactly what people wanted and then, quite suddenly, he seemed to not know.

Some pundits said the company had long lacked a strong creative director, someone who can translate Jacobs' vision into actual expression for the design team.

That role was occupied successfully by Venetia Scott, but she left in 2015.

As for Jacobs himself, he appears uninterested in channelling modern culture.

"I am so appalled by the whole social media thing. I don't get it, it doesn't appeal to me," he told British Vogue in 2015.

His runway shows are still highly anticipated though.

People go to pay their respects to a genius and hope to be wowed like so many times before.

But the events have also taken on a poignant air of irrelevance - the clothes feel disconnected from the marketplace.

Is Jacobs a has-been then?

Industry consultant Fern Mallis, formerly executive director of the CFDA, stated what many people seem to believe about Jacobs - that despite his recent struggles, he is someone you can never count out.

"His talent is too great," she said.

"He's a risk taker. He doesn't really care. That's pretty fabulous."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2018, with the headline 'Has Marc Jacobs gone out of fashion?'. Print Edition | Subscribe