The fashion exhibition (which will open March 9th) at the Musse des Arts Decoratifs in Paris has a bit of a split personality. Called Louis Vuitton – Marc Jacobs, the show examines the influence the two men in the title have had on the fashion industry. Broken up into two levels, the exhibit dedicates the first floor to Mr. Vuitton, a man who embraced the growing power of fashion at the start of the industrial age. He recognized its emerging sway over society and social etiquette and focused his trunk designs on the particular needs of fashionable men and women on the go. Upstairs is devoted to the Louis Vuitton brand’s current artistic director Marc Jacobs, who has been shaping the house’s image since he took up the newly created post in 1997. The examination of Mr. Jacobs work is viewed through the prism of another major upheaval in the fashion world- the globalization of the industry. One in which the internet, social media platforms and emerging markets have changed the way fashion is seen, interpreted and purchased.
I sat down with Mr. Jacobs just after the designer has watched a Louis Vuitton collection from the front row for the first time. It was the sophomore show by the brand’s recently appointed menswear designer Kim Jones and Mr. Jacobs was in high spirits. Once he lit up a cigarette and settled himself in a plastic chair backstage he opened up about the forthcoming exhibit which he points out is in no way a retrospective of his work.
JM: What did you want to get across exactly with this exhibition?
MJ: I didn’t have any mission at all– I was so flattered when Pamela (Golbin) came to us and said she wanted to do this exhibition about Louis Vuitton and me and my 15 years with the team- my 15 years so far I should say-, with the teams. I always find it a bit difficult to deal wit the idea of fashion and museums and I’ve said that before. And I think curators have a kind of cerebral, heady, comparative narrative thing going on. For me the reward of doing what we do is doing it, not when it’s done. And when people wear it and love it and covet it or can’t wait to have it, whatever it is. So I think my attitude towards the whole thing was that I was very flattered, but how do we make this experience of what fashion is all about – which is the joy. From my point of view, not from the Louis Vuitton historical point of view, but from my 15 years.
And so we worked very hard with Katie Grand and Samantha Gainsbury on what we think will be a very animated exhibition. Which I think it certainly will be: we had a very long meeting this morning about it!
JM: Tell me a little bit more about the “animated” aspect of the exhibit how are you going to get across the “life” of fashion…
MJ: To me there’s nothing more boring than seeing a bunch of clothes that were once worn by people with interesting lives, on a bunch of still mannequins in a quiet environment. So there’ll be music, there’ll be moving images, animated mannequins; just fantastic imaginative ways of showing the things that were inspiring the parallels past and present.
JM: Talking about parallels did you see any between yourself and Mr. Vuitton?
MJ: I don’t see any. I was brought in by Mr. Arnault, myself and Robert Duffy, to create a fashion brand out of a house that was known for luggage. We had to look at what its heritage was in terms of the savoir faire, the quality, the luxury of the brand. But what we were asked to do was to do something that could exist in kind of a parallel universe. Something that was contemporary, that would keep the brand in this moment, as opposed to in the past. And not about how you pack but what you pack. And fashion and beyond fashion: accessories, everything. We created the menswear, womenswear, the watches (they were started while I was there), the jewelry, the fine jewelry, and now we are working on a perfume.
So, if anything, what we maintain is that we have a respect for the past but we also have a good healthy disrespect in terms of taking things, I mean respect of craft, respect of quality, respect of luxury, respect of the monogram, which is iconic to the house etc, and find ways to celebrate that, keep that contemporary. And to create new things.
JM: Well looking back over your first 15 years with Louis Vuitton, was anything that surprised you? Did you have any sort of shock, or discovered anything unexpected?
MJ: No. No, not really. I wasn’t really surprised. I don’t look back too much, Sometimes we refer to things that we’ve done in the past. It’s part of our vocabulary to talk about some things from the past. But I guess some places I got very emotional just thinking about what the circumstances were when we were doing some things, remembering certain anecdotes or stories, situations, and where we were. Whether it was at rue du Bac or whether we’d just moved to rue du Pont Neuf. What our team was like when we were 5 people as opposed to 50 people. So I guess I wouldn’t say it was nostalgic but I had some emotional moments looking at the content of the exhibition. But more than even emotions, it feels kind of joyous, we’ve done all that and then we’re in the process of doing something new. It’s not the end of anything.
JM: And what about for you, what do you see as being the biggest change at Louis Vuitton over the last 15 years?
MJ: Well, I think it’s evolved. I feel like we’ve become stronger and more confident, and we’ve learned. And when I say we I always refer to me and the team of people I work with: the women who sew, the pattern makers, all the designers in the studio, we go further and further in terms of developing textiles, we go further and further in terms of learning about the savoir faire, and marketing things, presenting things, the presentations of the shows, and the travel.
You know a journey: it can be one of a fantasy, that journey you go on when you walk into a fashion show and you are taken to some magical place whether it’s a merry-go-round, or a hotel lobby with elevators.
And so, instead of taking anything so literally about of how we transform a company whose heritage is travel, into fashion. It’s just become more free. And you know all my hang ups and concerns I use to have in the beginning are pretty much gone. Now it’s more about focusing on how to entertain people and make beautiful things. And feel like we do it with integrity and passion.
JM: If there was one thing you want people to take away with from this exhibit what would it be?
MJ: The word “experience” keeps coming up in my mind, because whether you go to a show or whether you go shop for clothes or a bag, whether you wear a coat or a dress, it’s an experience.
I’m not interested solely in the object, I’m interested in the journey of that object. So whether you find yourself on a curb after a partying in a dress, sitting on the curb smoking a cigarette at the end of a night or whether you get whisked away by your prince charming. You know whatever it is…. it’s the life of these things that’s interesting to me. Rather than the things themselves.
This article ran in the April 2012 issue of Vogue Japan.