Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton Spring 2013 / via IMAXtree
A new round of designer music chairs is officially underway, with rumors that Marc Jacobs will leave his long-held post at Louis Vuitton (and most likely be succeeded by former Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière) to either head up Coach or devote himself full-time to his eponymous brand, with the eventual aim of taking it public, following the Michael Kors model. Let's unweave this tangled web, one tangly tangle at a time, okay?
First, some background:
Luxury conglomerate LVMH hired Marc Jacobs in 1997 as an attempt to launch a womenswear line at Louis Vuitton and revamp the iconic leather goods company's staid, stuffy image. Jacobs' competence and fame is so well-established today, it's hard to imagine what a risky hire it must have been at the time. Jacobs had been fired from his last job at Perry Ellis a few years prior, after designing a paradigm-shattering grunge collection (it obviously shattered those paradigms a little too hard). Louis Vuitton was about tradition, luxury and craft, and Jacobs managed to bring it up to speed with contemporary fashion trends and pop culture (arguably) without abandoning the house's historical legacy. His 16-year tenure at the Parisian label, coupled with the work he did (together with business partner Robert Duffy) building his eponymous design empire (in which LVMH now owns a 96% stake) has made him one of the single most influential designers working today.
Will Marc Jacobs leave Louis Vuitton?
There's a lot of speculation in the press, indicating the option is on the table. However, you can't trust the rumors that emerge during these kinds of high-profile contract negotiations — either or both parties could be leaking false or half-false information as a way of gaining the upper hand and settling on more favorable terms.
Here's all we really know for sure: Marc Jacobs' contract with Louis Vuitton is set to expire at the end of 2013; as far as we know, he and LVMH have not determined whether both parties wish to extend it. Asked to comment about negotiations with LVMH, Jacobs' business partner, Duffy, declined to comment except to confirm that they are happening in an "ongoing" way. WWD has spoken to "market sources" who claim that the negotiations "have extended beyond his Vuitton contract and could see his entanglements with the French group altered or recalibrated."
This rumor has only gained so much traction because it dovetails with several other, sometimes contradictory, future possibilities — all predicated on Jacobs' departure from Louis Vuitton.
[The verdict: Very possible, hardly certain based on current available evidence.]
Will Jacobs replace Reed Krakoff at Coach, Inc?
Former Tommy Hilfiger design executive Reed Krakoff is moving on from Coach to focus on his eponymous brand. Krakoff joined Coach in 1996 and his contract is set to expire at the end of this year, a timeline that's almost identical to Jacobs' tenure at Louis Vuitton. Compounding the seeming synchronicity of a possible Jacobs move to Coach, Krakoff was initially hired by the American leather goods company to build it as a viable contender to European luxury and leather goods companies like Louis Vuitton and Prada.
WWD reports that Coach is dreaming sweet dreams of stealing Jacobs away from Louis Vuitton. Which — duh. Me too. I dream of Marc Jacobs leaving Louis Vuitton to come be with me and make me purses.
WWD: "It could not be learned whether Jacobs has been contacted about the Coach job and sources stressed his inclusion on the list of candidates is speculative at this point. According to sources, other candidates on the list include the likes of former Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière, Chloé’s creative director Clare Waight Keller, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim and Emma Hill, former creative director at Mulberry."
Uh huh. WE KNOW NOTHING.
Coach is one of the few publicly-traded independent luxury companies. The possibility that he'll take a job there might be a particularly fun threat for Jacobs to wave around in front of his monopoly-hungry LVMH bosses, as he negotiates his Louis Vuitton contract possibly with the end-goal of strong-arming the holding company into divesting their shares of his eponymous design company.
Coach would be something of a step down, prestige-wise, from Louis Vuitton. Jacobs is too ambitious. Would the designer really give up his job at one of the oldest, most beloved French fashion houses to go put his own spin on the wallets at Coach? Considering his apartment and art collection, Jacobs is not for want of pocket money. What he does need is time: the designer recently announced that he was replacing himself at Marc by Marc Jacobs with Luella Bartley and Katie Hillier because the line was getting, according to Duffy, “a little stale.” At Coach, Jacobs would likely need to swallow a lot of pride to succeed Krakoff, a contemporary who left the position to focus entirely on his own line.
[The verdict: No evidence; not happening.]
Will Jacobs take his company public?
When Michael Kors made an initial public offering in 2011, it was the annual best performing IPO, beating out Facebook. The American fashion company's enormous success taking itself public (LVMH used to own a major stake in the company) is very likely being considered as a model by Marc Jacobs. Though the company's finances are hidden under the LVMH's umbrella, it is believed to be earning $1 billion in revenue annually.
However, LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault is ruthless about maintaining LVMH's industry stronghold (just look at his Hermes takeover attempt and the subsequent legal battle) and a WWD source points out that the company has been continuing to invest heavily in Marc Jacobs.
[The verdict: Jacobs may be trying to find a way to negotiate independence for his eponymous brand from LVMH, so that he can eventually take it public.]
Will Nicolas Ghesquière take over for Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton?
If Jacobs does leave Vuitton, it seems probable that he'll be replaced by Ghesquière. At this point, the former Balenciaga designer's possible position at Louis Vuitton seems like the most viable rumor, and the only one really lending credence to the theory that Jacobs will not renew his contract with the Parisian fashion brand.
Fashionista pseudo-verifies the rumor: an anonymous source confirms that Ghesquière is in "serious negotiations" with LVMH on the subject of succeeding Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton.
[The verdict: Very possible BUT having lived through LVMH's recent hiring of Raf Simons to replace John Galliano at Dior, I say, don't believe anything until you see it on the runway. ]