The designer of Marc Jacobs’ Heaven line plays with pop culture

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Heaven’s Ava Nirui in her Brooklyn apartment © Photographed for the FT by Miranda Barnes

The first time multi-hyphenated designer Ava Nirui collaborated with Marc Jacobs, she deliberately misspelled her name. The white “Mark Jacobes is 1985” embroidered hoodie was a quintessential Nirui creation. A few years earlier, the Australian artist had emerged on Instagram as a creative bootlegger, playing with the names of Dior, Chanel and Louis Vuitton to create ironic versions of the brand’s obsession with luxury, such as logos. asthma inhalersbasketballs and tubes of toothpaste.

“I’m obsessed with Marc. I work for him, but I’m also a really big Marc Jacobs fan,” says Nirui, 31. This first collaboration in 2017 laid the groundwork for Heaven, the Marc Jacobs spin-off line that Jacobs and Nirui launched together in the fall. of 2020.

With its nostalgic undercurrent and tangled web of pop culture references, Heaven has resonated with millennials who, like Nirui, fondly remember Marc Jacobs in his heyday of the 1990s and 2000s, with his pedigree grunge and its “It” Stam quilted bags. For this generation, Heaven has a strong whiff of Marc by Marc Jacobs, the entry-level line that for many represented a first step into the world of Marc Jacobs, and which was discontinued in 2015. But Heaven also attracts the Gen Z, who seem to revel in nostalgia just as much as the millennials and have developed an eclectic and fluid fashion taste mixing vintage references and current trends.

Woman wearing bright patterned pants, matching tank top and blue platform shoes

Nicki Minaj in the Heaven SS22 campaign © Harley Weir

Man in a Japanese street wearing a green sweater and blue combat pants

Lookbook Heaven AW20 photographed by FRUiTS founder Shoichi Aoki © Shoichi Aoki

With prices typically below $400, Heaven sits at a more accessible price point than Marc Jacobs’ main offering. The seasonal drops draw inspiration from Jacobs’ previous collections, runways and campaigns, often recreating some of the designer’s most recognizable designs. The latest drop, for Spring 2022, features the label’s chunky Kiki platform boots from Fall ’16, along with Marc Jacobs-inspired dresses and skirts. AW 2004, Resort 2011 and AW 2017.

“Young people are very culturally aware and very advanced when it comes to style,” says Nirui. “Due to the trend cycle, Gen Z is very interested in the aesthetics, music, culture, movies and art that are at the heart of the Marc Jacobs brand. ‘having this history that we can tap into. The things that I was interested in when I was 16, 16-year-olds today are very obsessed. It wasn’t our goal to reach Gen Z , it just naturally fell into place. It helps that the brand, which offers baby t-shirts, grungy cardigans, printed mini dresses, nylon shoulder bags and extravagant accessories, has appeared on this generation’s favorites such as Bella Hadid, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa and Doja Cat.

Marc Jacobs does not disclose the proportion of revenue Heaven contributes to the overall business, but celebrity buzz and the line’s popularity with young consumers are a positive development for the brand after troubling years that have seen the closure of dozens of stores, layoffs and the threat of irrelevance. In the 2010s, the brand’s aesthetic gradually moved away from the minimalist styles worn by Phoebe Philo, creative director at the time of Céline, and the utilitarian trend carried by streetwear. In 2018, analysts valued that the LVMH-owned brand had been losing $61 million a year for the past few years, seeing flat revenue — a steep drop from the estimated at $1 billion in sales in 2015. (LVMH does not disclose the brand’s financial performance.) Under the leadership of managing director Eric Maréchalle, who joined Kenzo in 2017, the brand changed course. In a call with analysts, LVMH chief financial officer Jean Jacques Guiony said Marc Jacobs returned to profitability in 2020 for the first time in five years. The brand has also embarked on a retail expansion, opening 15 new locations last year.

Cutout of a blue dress

Heaven Cloud Love dress, £435, inspired by Marc Jacobs AW 2004, marcjacobs.com

Cutout of a pair of black platform boots with multiple buckles

Heaven Multi Buckle Kiki Boots, £610, inspired by Marc Jacobs AW 2016, marcjacobs.com

Nirui says each Heaven line was born out of a conversation with Marc Jacobs, designer Sho Littlefield and Marc Jacobs fashion director Mary Turpin. Yet the brand is largely the product of Nirui’s own vision and understanding of what is culturally relevant. Many collaborators come from her own circle of friends and a list of dream contributors she keeps in her Notes app. Her diverse backgrounds – she has worked in music and fashion journalism, as well as retail and as digital editor for New York brand Helmut Lang – have merged with her current role as creative director, while her marketing talent is behind the campaigns. , who presented a reconstruction of the american beauty poster with Mira Sorvino and featured past and present pop culture figures such as Kate Moss, Placebo frontman Brian Molko, Nicki Minaj and Gen Z singer Beabadoobee. “I often think about creative production before I even think about design,” she says.

Heaven’s only single-brand store, in Fairfax in Los Angeles, was inspired by Nirui’s memories of the time she spent hanging out in and around Utopia, an Australian store that was a focal point in her teenage years. “When I was little, retail spaces were important to me,” she says. “We would get together, sit down and talk about records, books and musicians we liked. A lot of those friendships and a lot of things that I learned from the people I met there are things that I now reference with Heaven, so I thought it would be really meaningful to create a space physical space where people could interact, share ideas and form friendships. Especially in times of Covid, we’ve all become quite anti-social and it’s refreshing for people to come together IRL and form these meaningful relationships at times when everything is happening online.

Olivia Rodrigo in Bright Blue Sleeveless Graphic Sweater

Olivia Rodrigo wears the Heaven Black Kissers vest in New York. . . © Robert Kamau/GC Images

Bella Hadid walking in long flared pants, a gray waistcoat and a cropped striped cardigan

. . . while Bella Hadid opts for Heaven Miniature Striped Cardigan © GC Images

Heaven’s popularity is deeply tied to the recent return of eclecticism, maximalism and self-expression to the fashion scene, millennials’ obsession with nostalgia and joyful exploration of fashion’s past. Generation Z. As the trend wheel continues to turn, does Heaven have a plan to stay on top?

“Part of the reason Heaven was successful is because it’s intimate and that’s because it is,” Nirui explains. “I mainly work with my friends and Marc’s friends and I think that’s why it feels authentic. For me, there really isn’t a plan to stay relevant. We will simply continue to do projects with people who inspire us and to maintain this identity. I think we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing, that’s definitely the energy of the brand.

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