Fashion: Making his Marc on masses

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

The parallel worlds of travel trunk designer Louis Vuitton and fashion designer Marc Jacobs meet at an exhibition that analyses how they built a global empire and shaped the luxury goods industry.

Portraits of the two men greet visitors to the Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs exhibition at the Les Arts Decoratif, a museum adjacent to the popular Louvre museum in Paris.

Entrance of the exhibition. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

“Two innovators, both rooted in their respective centuries, advanced an entire industry. Two creators, each in his own language, appropriated cultural codes and trends in order to shape the history of contemporary fashion,” reads exhibition notes.

On the first floor of the museum space unfolds the story of Vuitton, a “man of modest origins”, who started his company in 1854. Vuitton produced top-end travel bags for the wealthy of Paris. This exhibition describes him as a “packager trunk maker”.

Vuitton lived in a time of industrialisation and was able to use technology to grow his business. He also understood early on the value of branding products.

By 1888 he started printing his signature on the outside of his high quality leather trunks. His name was integrated into the exterior decorative pattern; a tradition that would continue.

“In 1896, four years after his father’s death, Georges Vuitton pursued Louis logic and created the famous LV monogram. He integrated the founder’s initials into a pattern of rosettes, giving these letters the quality both of a signature and decorative pattern,” states the exhibition notes.

Vintage Louis Vuitton bags on show. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Fast forward to 1997 and fresh-faced designer Marc Jacobs gets the top job as creative director of Louis Vuitton. Jacobs embraced growing globalisation and a world hungry for fashion.

And so the exhibition of Vuitton’s posh Paris transforms into the pop culture universe of Jacobs on the second floor. A short flight of black stairs leads one into rooms that are dressed in black tiles from head to toe. One enters ‘Marc’s World’ and the designer’s welcoming voice is looped via a speaker: ‘Hi guys.’

Walls covered in light boxes and TV screens project images of what inspires Jacobs. It’s all American pop culture: actresses like Elizabeth Taylor and comedy shows like The Simpsons find place next to countless other familiar faces. And this is where the analysis begins as it speaks of how Jacobs transformed Louis Vuitton.

Jacobs was determined, in a globalised fashion world, to ensure that everybody knew that his brand was cool. He married it with famous faces, music videos and artists who bring with them their wealth of fans.

Jacobs started in 2003 to invite celebrities to front his fashion campaigns. This has included Jennifer Lopez as the debut star-face, Uma Thurman (2005) and then Madonna (2009). As a result, Jacobs by association and for his visible appearances as spokesperson for the brand, was afforded celebrity status too.

As this transpires, we can see from exhibited video footage, Jacobs went from fresh-faced (with bad hair) to frumpy (still with bad hair and just a little overweight) to full-on A-list sleek (with styled hair).

His transformation is documented on the many closing salutes on fashion catwalks shown on TV screens housed behind wooden walls with peep holes to view through. One TV screen shows a video loop of a latter-day Jacobs perpetually sticking out his tongue during his obligatory lap on the catwalk.

Marc Jacobs installation. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Jacobs speaks also in voice recordings of the depth of his inspiration: “I love all that glitters.” That sort of thinking turned the brand from speaking primarily to a world of ultra-classic conservatism into one that reached the masses. The up-to-the-moment fashionistas have hailed Jacobs’ and his bright ensemble of gaudiness.

For some, the Louis Vuitton classiness might have sadly morphed into nothing but an undefined, noisy universe of clutter that lacks refinement.

But Jacobs, who “oversees everything from products, fashion shows to advertising campaigns”, always attracts the right name to add gravitas to his world. His latest design collaboration launched in July is with Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama –born in 1929 – who is known as the ‘Princess of Polkadots’. Jacobs and artists that he chooses work to re-interpret the LV monogram.

Kusama offers Louis Vuitton merchandise her “explosion of polkadots”. This artist says that her life is “a dot lost among millions of other dots”. She has also described herself as obsessive and resides permanently in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital.

Kusama has decided that as part of her collaboration she would have dolls that look like her in some of the 461 of Louis Vuitton’s shop windows worldwide.

These dolls would “represent Kusama in her famous red wig and dressed in red and white polka dots”.

“These miniature dolls of Kusama have been made identical to herself, by moulding her face and hands with clay,” explains Giselle Hon, the brand’s spokesperson in South Africa.

Interestingly, Jacobs appears also as a doll at the Paris analysis of his contribution to global fashion. The doll is just under 30 centimetres, rotates all day long and smiles: “Bye guys!”

Bye guys, says the Marc Jacobs doll. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs runs at the Les Arts Decoratif in Paris until September 16. For more information log on to


This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a regional weekly newspaper in Cape Town, Western Cape province of South Africa, on August 19 2012.


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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