The biggest news of Fashion Month broke yesterday at the Louis Vuitton show in Paris: Marc Jacobs has stepped down as creative director of the label to focus on taking his namesake company public. In the 16 years that Jacobs has led the house, he's shown memorable, thought-provoking collections that kept editors and buyers looking forward to his offerings each season. The fashion may have been stellar, but when it comes to handbags and accessories—the thing that keeps Louis Vuitton in business—many consumers seem to be increasingly dissatisfied.
In the spring, Business of Fashion reported that Vuitton’s brand value had declined 12 percent from 2012, with luxury houses like Prada and Gucci gaining on it, due to their ability to better manage "the trade-off between exclusivity and affordability." The drop in sales that started with the recession was only made worse by the double-digit sales decline Vuitton has seen in Asian markets over the last few years.
Since Louis Vuitton is largely considered to be a "masstige" brand (one that's prestige but accessible to the masses), the label doesn't have an exact customer target: Luxury customers are passing up on their goods to buy more exclusive items, while sales from middle-class customers continue to fall due to the state of the economy. Plus, brand saturation has hit an all-time high. The company has been forced to close a number of stores internationally since 2009, and it's still fighting off the millions of counterfeits that continue to plague the brand.
To combat this shift in sales, Vuitton has started to make a push towards "hyper-luxury" goods, namely more expensive handbags. The label recently brought on Darren Spaziani as accessories designer—who's held positions at Proenza Schouler and Balenciaga—to breathe new life into its leather goods. Plus, they're likely counting on him to create a new generation of "It" pieces that will set Vuitton apart from its competitors and, in turn, increase exclusivity and demand. During his tenure at Vuitton, Jacobs invited artists like Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami, and Scott Campbell, as well as filmmaker Sofia Coppola, to collaborate on handbags and accessories for his collections. These exclusive pieces are some of the most iconic—and best-selling—that the label has ever produced.
Whoever takes the reins at Louis Vuitton—industry chatter suggests that it will be Nicolas Ghesquière—has huge shoes to fill, but we're thinking that it's a great time for LVMH to bring in some new blood.