Where Marc Jacobs And Louis Vuitton Meet
This year, Marc Jacobs celebrates 15 years as the creative director of Louis Vuitton. And today in Paris, Louis Vuitton—Marc Jacobs, a comprehensive exhibition that explores two innovators and their roles in Vuitton’s 143-year history, opens to the public at the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs. (If you can’t make it to Paris before the September 16 closing date, Rizzoli’s accompanying tome, with historical and critical essays by curator Pamela Golbin and Jo-Ann Furniss, a look back through the collections organized by Jacobs and Katie Grand, and more, arrives in April; it can be preordered here.)
“When we were talking through the project, what came out was we really wanted to portray Louis almost like a black and white picture, whereas Marc is like a Technicolor film,” said curator Pamela Golbin, a celebrated author, fashion historian, and the Chief Curator of Fashion and Textiles at Les Arts Décoratifs. The exhibition is divided between a historical view of founder Louis Vuitton himself and a contemporary view of Jacobs’ creation of the house’s ready-to-wear, which he founded in 1997 and has stewarded since. Here, Style.com talks to Golbin about creating the exhibition and the history of the influential house.
What does this exhibition say about the development of Marc’s career at Vuitton?
First of all, what’s so interesting about this exhibition is that it follows two men, so it’s about Louis and he has a whole floor, and then also a second floor is dedicated to Marc. When it came to Marc, it was important for him to be very involved in the project. I did not want this to be a retrospective; it’s more a celebration of what Marc has done in the last 15 years at Vuitton. And it’s incredible that it has already been 15 years. The exhibition is more about the vision that he created for the brand than anything else. And that vision is quite large. It’s not just about designing clothes. Obviously accessories are important, but so is advertising, his artistic collaborations, and just his overall cultural vision. So Marc’s floor begins with Marc’s World. We essentially opened up his head and we did a self-portrait of Marc through all of the cultural influences that he’s had and that he uses for his design process. So it’s like a giant Tumblr page with still images and video images of everything and anything that has influenced him over the years. It’s not at all chronological. It’s thematic. And he even came up with the titles for each of the cases.
Why did you want to steer away from doing a retrospective?
The idea was by no means to say, “OK, in 1997 he did this and he did that.” His story is not chronological. His story is really about an energy and an attitude. He turned Louis Vuitton from a brand into a house. And so what we tried to get across were the steps that he took to get there and important moments. And more importantly, just really his fashion vision for Louis Vuitton that, when he arrived, was already 143 years old. He really created a fashion entity within a luxury brand.
How does the exhibition demonstrate the impact of Marc’s collaborations with artists like Stephen Sprouse (above), Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince?
Obviously today it’s normal for a luxury brand to reach out to an artist or to work on a collaborative project. In 2001, when Marc initiated this, it was not something that was an easy sell, [especially] within a company that was as important as Louis Vuitton. The success was global, and then obviously from Murakami and Prince the success just got bigger and bigger—so now it’s a given for any company to work that way. But Marc is really someone who works with a team, and he’s never about the “me.” He’s always about the “we,” so it seems organic and quite natural for him to reach out to artists to collaborate on different projects. And in each case, he was able to remodernize the LV monogram, what has now become a cultural icon.
How does the show demonstrate how Marc plays off Louis Vuitton’s history and uses the archive?
For example, [as part of the exhibition] he actually explains why he chose such a muted palette for his first collection at Louis Vuitton. He only did pieces that were white, black, and gray, and he explains how, for the first collection, he decided not to use a logo. However, he was inspired by the gray canvas trunk that Louis started with in the 1860s. That was really the “stealth wealth,” discreet quality that he wanted to inculcate all of the first collection’s garments with. And as he said, everything was on the inside like the inside of a trunk.
How involved was Marc with the realization and curation of the exhibition?
Everything went through Marc. Obviously Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett did the exhibition design. [But] all of the creative team was working on this. Emma [Winter], who works on the bags, was on the project. Faye [McLeod], who does the creative visuals worldwide, was on the project. Katie Grand, who’s Marc right-hand person, was also on the project. So Marc says he’s not into blank pages. If you put a line, he knows if it should be a circle and if it should be in red and blue and green. That’s how we worked. We brought him ideas. We showed him where we were going, and then he reacted and said, “That’s exactly what I want.” Or, “I don’t know about this, let’s try this or that.” So he reacted to the ideas that we kept feeding him. And what was so exciting was to be able to be a part of that creative process.
We’ve talked a bit about Marc. Tell me a bit about the Vuitton aspect of the show.
The Louis Vuitton brand is known worldwide, [but] what really interested me was Who was Mr. Louis Vuitton? Because people tend to forget that behind a brand, there’s always a person. And it was the person that really enticed me into this project and seduced me. So the more I learned about him, the more I wanted to understand what relevance he has today.
On the first floor, we trace Louis and put him in the context of Parisian fashion. During his time, it was the birth of the haute couture Parisienne. And Louis was very close to the founder, Charles Frederick Worth. So we were able to find a trunk with the actual plaque from Charles Frederick Worth. Putting Louis further into context, we brought out a collection from the fashion museum from our collection and really show not only the quantity of clothes that were necessary for a woman at that time but also the volume that those clothes took up, so you can really understand why you would even call someone like Mr. Vuitton in the 19th century so he could come and pack your bags. Then, all of his signature styles were shown at the World Fair. Through documents, we also show the actual innovations he presented at these universal exhibitions.
As someone who has studied the history of so many iconic brands and designers, what did you find most interesting about the history of Vuitton?
I think it was how modern Louis was. And also how perfectly in tune Marc has been and how clever he has been in creating the fashion facet of such an incredible company. And Marc himself always says that he created this parallel universe. He didn’t want to set aside the history. On the contrary, he’s created something on top of what already exists. He is able not only to appropriate the history, but also create something new that still takes into account the almost two centuries that have passed.
Are there any aspects of the exhibition that we haven’t touched upon that you’d like to highlight?
There are so many moments that were challenging because of time and space. But there were also so many moments of just pure humor. I think humor is really important. And when you’re speaking about history, it’s always a little delicate. But when we were working on the Marc part, it was really exciting to be able to get that across, because humor is such a big part of who Marc is. From the beginning I wanted Marc to be present. And at the end, when you see the show, there’s actually a mini 40-cm-high Marc doll that says, “Bye, guys” to all the viewers. And it’s literally a miniature of Marc. He was scanned three-dimensionally with all of his tattoos. The whole nine yards. He’s wearing the uniform he always wears—his white shirt and his kilt, and he even has the LV diamond studs that were done miniature for him. I think it’s a wonderful example of how incredible this company is.