Marc Jacobs’s departure from Louis Vuitton to focus on an initial public offering of his own brand is set to provide a double boost for LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA (MC), the owner of both luxury fashion labels.
The move will enable Jacobs to concentrate solely on the growth of his label while a new artistic director works to inspire a revival at Vuitton following a slowdown, according to Luca Solca, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas.
“While Marc has done a lot for LV in 16 years at the helm, it is only natural that new creative talent will provide novelty,” Solca wrote in an e-mail yesterday. The designer being freed up to focus on his own label is “great news.”
Jacobs, 50, is stepping down from Vuitton to accelerate his brand’s development, a person familiar with the matter said yesterday. The brand, with annual sales of about $1 billion, may pursue an IPO in about three years, said the person, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. An LVMH spokesman declined to comment.
At Vuitton, which presented its spring-summer collection yesterday, Jacobs helped transform the trunkmaker into the biggest luxury brand with sales exceeding 7 billion euros ($9.5 billion). He added ready-to-wear and collaborated with artists including Stephen Sprouse and Kanye West. His handbag collection with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami decorated the streets the world over as a colored version of the traditional LV logo splashed on a white canvas background became a global hit.
More recently, sales have slowed as consumers tire of Vuitton’s ubiquitous, logoed designs and sought out more exclusive items. LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods maker, in April posted its weakest fashion and leather-goods sales growth since 2009. Yves Carcelle, who worked with Jacobs since he joined Vuitton, was replaced as the label’s CEO last year.
The American designer turned “Vuitton into a brand to be reckoned with,” said Jane Kellock, senior vice president of fashion, beauty and color at Stylus, a London-based research and advisory firm. That said, the label needs new eyes to make it more relevant again. “It’s amazing and it’s fabulous and everybody loves the shows, but at the end of the day maybe they need to take that back a bit. It could be pulled right back to something really pared down and simple and beautiful.”
Jacobs’s women’s collection for Vuitton, shown yesterday at the Louvre, was funereal, with models wearing black dresses and feathered headgear. Referring to his long-term business partner and LVMH’s chairman, the designer signed off the program notes: “For Robert Duffy and Bernard Arnault. All my love, always.”
The American designer founded his namesake brand in 1984 and LVMH invested in it in 1997 when he joined Vuitton. Marc Jacobs, which includes diffusion line Marc by Marc Jacobs, sells men’s and women’s clothing, leather goods, accessories and fragrances. LVMH does not break out results by brand.
Jacobs, whom the New Yorker in 2008 credited as the single real person most responsible for transforming New York City’s West Village (the other was fictional character Carrie Bradshaw), has styled a generation of American women with clothing like the $1,100 belted trench coat at Marc Jacobs, and made his name synonymous with wannabe fashionistas with $428 Hillier Hobo bags from Marc by Marc Jacobs. The brand now has stores from Bahrain to Vietnam, according to its website.
While Marc Jacobs is one of LVMH’s best-performing brands, spinning it off in an IPO while it is still growing would be “a lesser evil” than holding on to it against the wishes of its designer and seeing sales plummet, if reports of a share sale are true, said Antoine Belge, analyst at HSBC in Paris.
By pursuing an IPO, Marc Jacobs would follow Michael Kors (KORS) Holding Ltd., which raised $944 million in a 2011 sale. That company was worth about $15.4 billion as of yesterday’s closing share price in New York.
Focusing on his own line will give Jacobs an opportunity to make it more exciting, according to Kellock.
“Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs was erring on the ordinary side,” she said. While his clothes are wearable, they are often copied and “because everyone copies them, I tend to feel there’s always a cheaper version of it on the high street to be found.”
Jacobs’s departure comes as Arnault’s daughter Delphine arrives at Vuitton from Christian Dior Couture. Delphine Arnault, who joined last month, has been tasked with overseeing all product-related activities and helping restore Vuitton’s appeal, reporting to new CEO Michael Burke.
Former Balenciaga designer Nicholas Ghesquiere has been tipped as Jacobs’s successor, according to the New York Times. The designer left the Kering SA-owned brand last year after 15 years at the Paris-based label.
By letting Jacobs go to pursue his own label, LVMH might be getting the best of both worlds, Kellock added. “These big brands are realizing that perhaps they need to just give their creatives a little bit more space to think.”
Jacobs gave a hint of some of his thoughts in yesterday’s program notes at the Vuitton show.
“I take pleasure from things for exactly what they are, reveling in the pure adornment of beauty for beauty’s sake,” he wrote. “Connecting with something on a superficial level is as honest as connecting with it on an intellectual level.”
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