Big Changes are Coming to Marc Jacobs

This past week brought the official news that Marc Jacobs is shuttering its little sister collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs, on the heels of ongoing rumors that the New York-based design house is undergoing massive changes.  This week we learned that Robert Duffy, Marc Jacobs's longtime business partner, announced that he is stepping down from his leading role at the company, a position he has held since the late 1980's.  Duffy will remain deputy chairman of the board.  Still on board: Sebastian Suhl, who was appointed CEO of Marc Jacobs last fall. And it is because of this man that we should not be surprised that change is coming and it's big.

Marc Jacobs's parent company, LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton announced in July 2014 that it had appointed Sebastian Suhl, then the acting CEO of Givenchy (another LVMH-owned brand) to replace Bertrand Stalla-Bourdillon, who had been acting as CEO at Marc Jacobs since 2006.  This initial flurry of change came on the heels of Jacobs’ departure from Louis Vuitton in 2013, where he had served as creative director for 16 years.  Jacobs left the iconic Paris design house after the Spring/Summer 2013 show to focus his attention on his eponymous label, which comes ahead of a possible initial public offering of the Marc Jacobs brand expected as early as next year.

After he successfully floated rival Prada in 2011 when he was COO, Suhl spearheaded the transformation of Givenchy's retail structure and international presence, preparing to open 26 boutiques, including ones in Seoul, London, Rome, Milan and Tokyo, as well as the opening of a shop in Las Vegas, the brand's only namesake store in the U.S. as of 2013. The brand is slated to open a flagship on Madison Avenue in New York on the heels of the opening of the brand’s 4,000 sq ft flagship on Avenue Montaigne in Paris late 2013. As of now, Givenchy has an additional brick and mortar shop in Miami, as well as shop-in-shops in Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenues in Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Newport Beach. Moreover, in January 2014, the Paris-based design house, which is under the creative direction of Riccardo Tisci, appointed Devon Pike as its first-ever U.S. president.

Of his relationship with Suhl, Tisci said back in 2013: ”He’s been effectively leveraging the Givenchy DNA with his own hands, and he’s given the house amazing codes. Our product is very much desired.” And the brand's revenue, post-Suhl, is proof. The LVMH-owned label has enjoyed a near doubling of like-for-like sales in its existing store network. Suhl, himself, has spoken of Givenchy, saying: "I think the brand was really just waiting to explode."

 So, what does this mean for Marc Jacobs? Well, we are already seeing it pan out. According to Jacobs, one of the initial steps is bringing everything under one label. “In a sense, we’re starting at the beginning,” Jacobs said, referring specifically to the Marc by Marc news. Further speaking to the closing of Marc by Marc, he said this weekend: "It wasn’t supposed to be a second line or the poor-relative-of. I’m sitting here in a $2,000 cashmere/silk sweatshirt hoodie that we’ve made for 15 years."

But Jacobs suggests that not all affordability will be lost with the closing of his lower-end collection: “I want to make incredible fashion. I want to figure out a way to make that incredible fashion available to people on different levels.” According to WWD, the company remains committed to continuing the “core price range” of Marc by Marc. In addition, Suhl noted a great deal of “white space” between that range and the luxury pricing of the Marc Jacobs collection. “We’re not in all kinds of price ranges,” he said. “For example, our price range for bags is approximately $350 to $500 retail. Today we have almost no presence in price points above $500 in contemporary. There’s a market out there for that. I’m not saying it’s going to be a majority of our market. It might be low double-digits, low penetration, but there’s a big opportunity there. We also have the opportunity to live in the advanced contemporary [with clothes]. There’s no reason we should have some price points there as well."

Rather unsurprisingly, Suhl has big plans for the brand. Moving forward, he said that the now-unified brand will increase its focus on retail, though they will have to deal with the soon-to-be-vacant Marc by Marc Jacobs stores. "We have loads of opportunities to operate and open more stores, but I think the main focus is really getting the concept right, the product right under a unified store concept," Suhl said.

With annual  ales approaching $1 billion, the company still has ample growth possibilities. Suhl points out that Marc Jacobs is the only American brand that does more than 50 percent of its business abroad, a fact that goes both ways: Jacobs has an impressive international profile and still plenty of growth room at home. Specifically. Suhl thinks U.S. malls present a “glaring opportunity.”

And per WWD, with all of these changes in play, Jacobs is feeling positive and excited. He remains invigorated by the reaction to his powerful fall show, and by his life-long love affair with fashion.