Marc Jacobs is Honored into an Early Grave. So Who is the Next MJ?

Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs is many things: fashion wunderkind, creative genius, one half of a partnership (the other being Robert Duffy) that has demonstrated, better than most,  the keen ability to expand a brand without cannibalizing itself, and on Monday he can add another title, lifetime achiever.   On Monday, Jacobs will be  lauded by his comrades while be honored with the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award at the Council of Fashion Designers of America award gala to be held at Lincoln Center here in NYC.  With Anderson Cooper set to host, industry leaders, press and the fashionable, beautiful subset of models and personalities set to attend, Jacobs could understandably be floored with this honor.  Yet, he isn’t (really).  He has stated in more than one interview that he feels he is being preempted with a lifetime achievement, especially as he doesn’t intended to slow down in the slightest and frankly, he has a lot left to accomplish! But I guess the younger generation wants its spot as the world’s most visible and admired designer so they are forcing him into a retirement home while he can still walk unassisted and lucid enough to realize how unfair it is.  Think about it.  Lifetime achievement awards are normally given to people who need help walking up the stairs to the podium (go watch The Holiday with Kate Winslet if you don’t know what I am talking about).  I have to agree with Jacobs on this one.  He still sets the trends, both in color palette and silhouette, leaving the legions of other designers (especially those who design for mass market) to follow suit.  For example, notice that there is a lot of 1970’s influence in fashion right now with orange, purple, merlot and burnt yellow dominating the stores?  Blame Jacobs.  All three of his shows; Marc Jacobs, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, showed his stream of inspiration from the generation of Studio 54.

Marc Jacobs SS 2011

Marc by Marc Jacobs SS 2011

Louis Vuitton SS 2011

What Marc lays down other designers, stylists, editors and consumers pick up.  This simple, yet powerful fact, is evidenced every September and February when Marc holds his two shows at the State Armory on Lexington.  An hour pre-show (they ALWAYS start on time), is fraught with thousands flocking the front entrance trying to sneak in and get a peak.

But, if Jacobs really has hit the legendary status mark, it may mean that someone new is about to step in as the new de-facto leader of the cool, hip design world. But who?  Funnily enough, Marc Jacobs is nominated for Womenswear Designer of the Year alongside two of the most mentioned successors,  Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler.

Unaffected Youth de Jour: Kristen Stewart with Proenza Schouler designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough at the Met Ball 2011

Lazaro and Jack definitely have the fashion world on the tip of their Louboutins waiting with anticipation to see what these boys send down the runway. So, step 1 complete.   They designed one of the most loved handbags among the young, cool and hip Hollywood crowd with the PS1. Step 2, complete.

The popular girls with thier Ps1 Proenza Schouler handbag

Step 3 to mass appeal and lordship of fashion?  Exposure and cash.  The Proenza boys don’t have the stage or the deep coffers that Jacobs had at his disposal when he began to ghost design for Louis Vuitton (owned by LVMH) which is when the entire world learned his name. Jack and Lazaro are going to have to get eaten up by a much larger fish before they have the same experience.

Alexander Wang is one of my favorites. His design is consistent, he has grown independently and organically in complete alignment with his ethos and voice, and frankly, he himself has the carisma and star power to become a person that people want to listen to and emulate (very similar to Marc).  Alexander also likes to introduce the unexpected as evidenced by his choice of short suit for the CFDA awards (Marc likes to show off his legs too, but in kilts):

Alexander Wang and Dree Hemingway

So far so good in Alexander becoming the next MJ.  One of Marc’s biggest assets is his ability to extend his brand into enough arenas that he can satisfy the consumers needs to get a piece of his design, even if they cannot afford the MJ collection. As accessories always have an extremely high mark up (close to 70%), a good fashion house has to have a strong accessories program and Alexander continues his almost perfect batting average in this regard. In addition to his nomination for womenswear, he is also nominated for the CFDA Accessory Designer of the Year, after only one complete season (this is pretty unheard of).   Indeed his Coco duffel handbag has been a favorite for years among celebrities and the in-the-know fashion crowd:

If Alexander continues to grow his business as he has to the present, he will likely be in the position to take on an investor to get the scalability required to truly be a “celebrity designer”. The real question that begs to be answered is, does he really want to?  If he picks up more than one win on Monday, he may have no choice.

Other designers have the technical ability, the personality and the gravitas to take on the Marc Jacobs role within the next decade. Although there are a few workthy of mention, my favorite is Columbian born, Belgian-trained Haider Ackermann.  First off, he has an ever growing fan base (stylists, editors and merchants alike) coupled with the fact that Karl Lagerfeld thinks so highly of him, he went on record that Ackermann is the best choice to replace him at Chanel once he retires.  Remember what I said earlier about exposure and cash?  This is it folks.  We will have to wait and see what transpires  in the next year or so (Ackermann is also supposedly in the running to take over Galliano’s spot at Dior) but either way, Ackermann has a bright future in fashion so get to know him now!

Haider Ackermann Fall 2011 RTW

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