Defacing The Monogram

April 28, 2011 • Magazine, Pret Reporteur

As Marc Jacobs hits nearly three decades in the design world, Second City Style takes a look at one of his most iconic collaborations.

Marc Jacobs’ birthday was a few weeks ago (48 years old!), and in the last three decades he’s been designing, he has arguably changed the face of fashion as we know it. Not only has he made notable contributions to men’s and women’s wear with his Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs collections, but his work as the Creative Director of Louis Vuitton has involved iconic collaborations with some of the world’s most important contemporary artists. Projects with Vanessa Beecroft, Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Manolo Blahnik, Annie Leibovitz, and Jun Aoki remain notable amongst the hundreds of artists he has partnered with during his time at Vuitton, but without a doubt, one of Jacobs’ most acclaimed collaborations is his graffiti collection with Stephen Sprouse, and follow-up tribute collection in memoriam of the designer after he passed away in 2004.

It wasn’t until 1999, more than ten years after seeing Sprouse’s first collection, that Marc Jacobs began to play with the idea of manipulating the Louis Vuitton “LV” monogram. But rather than using his own design prowess and defacing the monogram himself, he conceptualized the idea and, instead, chose to use it as an opportunity for collaboration. “I had seen Charlotte Gainsbourg’s apartment and in this corner, she had this Vuitton suitcase, which I guess belonged to her dad, Serge, that had been painted black. And so that was in my head, this idea of covering up the monogram,” explained Marc Jacobs in a tribute book to Stephen Sprouse. The piece which sparked Jacobs’ desire to deface the monogram was that piece that started the entire Louis Vuitton brand in 1864: the trunk. “We could have hired a graphic artist,” said Jacobs, “but I wanted to use Stephen’s graffiti specifically because it meant something to me. Stephen as an artist, Stephen as a New York figure, Stephen and his style of graffiti. It had the credibility of street, but it also had this sort of style of somebody who was a fashion designer. So there was always this great integrity in his work.”

By producing this graffiti collection, Marc Jacobs and Stephen Sprouse scandalized Louis Vuitton, just as Stephen Sprouse worked from the type of graffiti prints that had scandalized public structures all over New York. In the end, Jacobs did what graffiti artists had been doing for decades: defacing public property through a subversive approach to art. Of his collection with Stephen Sprouse — purses, dresses, skateboards, luggage, leggings, shoes, all designed in the signature Louis Vuitton monogram that was then printed over in neon, seemingly hand-printed bubble letters that aggressively spelled out “Louis Vuitton” — Jacobs noted, “We broke all the rules that season. I had been told that we were not allowed to change the monogram. We were not allowed to do this. We were not allowed to do that. And I had been trying to follow the rules and do what everybody had told me until it got the point where I realized, ‘I’ve been listening to everybody and that’s not why I was brought in here.” Jacobs was consciously integrating different view points to give the brand a greater sense of cultural relativity; to engage the fashion public on the most widespread, culturally intuitive level possible. “I was brought in here to do something to make this young and cool and contemporary and of the moment. In order to do that, I have to have a certain amount of disrespect for the rules. I’m not a rebellious person, but I do like to take risks, and Stephen was the first person that I worked with who helped me to break the rules here.

When his collection with Sprouse hit stores, critics were impressed that Jacobs so readily shared credit with Stephen. “They felt it was an unusual thing for me to be newly in my position and promoting someone and sharing the credit. I just thought of the whole situation as being like this creative society in Europe during the twenties and the thirties when people like Chanel and Schiaparelli would bring in their artist friends like Cocteau or Dali. So I never really felt like it was any big deal,” Jacobs said. This concept of double-branding was so refreshing, because very rarely in the fashion world does one see two people so connected in their collaboration, especially when one’s work is brought on to re-brand the other’s. “Stephen took this logo that was so status, so elitist, and took it somewhere else that I thought was just genius,” said Polly Mellen. “And Marc Jacobs — what a brave man!…he wanted Stephen to go as far out as he wanted. I hungered for those pieces.”

While Marc Jacobs was certainly set up to continue creating within the controlled environment that was founded long before his leadership, he chose to stretch those boundaries, and instead, operate from a place of genuine inclusiveness and collaboration. His work with over hundreds of artists exemplify a deep appreciation for art and fashion within a social context and a need to connect fashion with the whole of the human spectrum, as opposed to just those trailing their fingers in pools of luxury. Jacobs has proven that even high tiers of luxury can be artistically and culturally relational, producing his own brand of pop culture luxury that democratizes fashion and art in a refreshingly modern way.

1. Louis Vuitton Rose Speedy Bag
2. Louis Vuitton Bracelets
3. Louis Vuitton Pareo
4. Louis Vuitton Sprouse Rose Pump
5. Marc Jacobs and Graffiti Keepall Bag
6. Stephen Sprouse and Marc Jacobs, 2000

—Amanda Aldinger


Image Layout: Molly Murphy

See the Top Ten Summer 2016 Trends for Women Over 40

Leave a Reply