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Marc Jacobs has won the attention of Gen Z by embracing cult figures of the chronically online

Posted by Emilie McMeekan in Comment

3 weeks ago

The luxury market has long tussled with TikTok and focusing the aspirations of younger generations, thereby future-proofing its heritage. Instagram made sense as an extension of the brand portfolio; the platform allowed beautiful imagery from campaigns that could easily be repurposed into a luxury look book for the new consumer to scroll through.

When TikTok really arrived, in those weird 2020 days, there was confusion in the luxury sector about how to engage with the platform. Curated, heavily-branded and aggressively-styled content didn’t translate. The past four years have been a series of hits and misses for the luxury brands, trying to import their values, aesthetic and people onto the platform, wrestling with the need to drop the perfection paintbrush.

Simultaneously TikTok has continuously thrown up viral stars. Irreverent, internet It-people whose storylines became online sensations. People who were thrust in the spotlight when the community began to obsess about them, for the good and the bad. Yes, there were It-girls who fitted the luxury mould, such as Sofia Richie Grainge, but even the so-called “hot messes” Madeline Argy and Alix Earle, are, beneath the chaos, still gorgeous, white, thin fashion plates. Siphoning off a little of their lustre is one thing, but there were also wildly unpredictable characters with huge scrappy accounts that the luxury market mostly ignored. Until, that is, Marc Jacobs.

Marc Jacobs is a luxury brand with a reputation for going against the grain and a love of the high/low. Jacobs himself is credited with creating “grunge” in 1993 when he was the designer for the conservative American luxe house Perry Ellis – a show that made his reputation and also got him fired.

His Marc by Marc Jacobs diffusion line sold £10 totes and flipflops, round the corner from his Marc Jacobs label with its £1,000 bags. The brand slightly lost its direction in the 2010s. When TikTok became the moment, however, the brand was one of the first to capitalise on the energy and community there, working with hashtag challenges and of-the-moment creators.

To promote the Perfect fragrance for example, Marc Jacobs launched the #PerfectAsIAm hashtag challenge with Rickey Thompson, who served as an official “hype man”, with Lizzo’s Good as Hell as the official soundtrack. The TikTok community was challenged to duet with Thompson’s video, and according to a TikTok for Business report: “The #PerfectAsIAm hashtag challenge surpassed TikTok beauty averages in video views, engagements and engagement rates for the entire first half of 2020. As of March 2021, #PerfectAsIAm had 10.1 billion video views globally.”

@marcjacobs

A cinematic masterpiece by @Seby_261 and @Michael

♬ original sound – marcjacobs

So, it’s no surprise that Marc Jacobs finds itself at the culture’s edge again. Since March 2024, the Marc Jacobs TikTok feed has been taken over by a succession of niche internet stars creating content for the luxury fashion house. These influencers are not (bar a few, such as Alex Consani) the usual cast of characters. They are not really lifestyle influencers. Instead, they are the cult figures of the chronically-online, of Gen Z users who have put them on a social pedestal because they are funny, quirky, cringy or have done something really stupid. They are the fringe deities of the web, with millions of followers, and they are now carrying Marc Jacobs totes.

The Marc Jacobs social media team has handpicked these happy outcasts, and commissioned them to produce content in their own style. It’s messy, it’s weird, it’s glorious and it is currently appearing on the For You Pages of teenagers, who would never naturally seek out such brand content. As a result, the account has seen in excess of 55M views in less than three months, and has earned comments from internet obsessives such as: “Seriously nothing has made me wanna start buying Marc Jacobs more than these sponsorships”.

@marcjacobs

Happy mom’s day @Sylvaniandrama 💐

♬ original sound – Christina

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for CORQ (here) about how my daughter, 14, had introduced me to the TikTok Rizz Party phenomenon, in which a group of lads had found themselves embroiled in an internet storm when they were filmed dancing and rapping at a Sweet Sixteen party to a Ye track, Carnival, here.

Two of the boys in the TikTok Rizz Party video had braved the relentless mickey-taking wave and emerged in front of it. The Marc Jacobs marketing team commissioned them to make their own lo-fi commercial, here. The video has 7.7 million views to date. The date of the video? 24 April. It’s all about the pace. My daughter has begun sending me Marc Jacobs updates daily, because the brand is consistently platforming creators she adores including Noah Miller and Bella Hadid039 (not that one), and Sylvanian Drama. Oh and the Teletubbies.

@marcjacobs

@bellahadid039 is ready for summer!

♬ original sound – marcjacobs

Hopping on the TikTok trend bandwagon is nothing new. Neither is casting internet personalities in campaigns. What’s interesting about this strategy is the team isn’t lifting the creators and putting them into the Marc Jacobs world, it is allowing the creators to make the content they are known for, on the brand’s behalf.

As my teen informed me in a voice note: “They are spreading awareness for their brand by not acting like a brand.” The team natively understands that by acting like an entertainment portal for Gen Z to view their favourite creators larking about, and literally getting their bag, Marc Jacobs can reach the places others haven’t quite dared to reach.

@marcjacobs

Who wore it best? @Teletubbies HQ

♬ original sound – marcjacobs

And this matters, because according to the True-Luxury Global Consumer Insight 2023 report, the Gen Z consumer segment was: “Worth €210Bn (£179Bn) of the personal luxury market in 2022 (from €95Bn (£81Bn) in 2016) and is expected to almost double again by 2026”. The team is also, as discussed above, fast to commission, meaning that it is clearly free from layers of marketing bureaucracy, and is also gamely responding to users discussing its success, here.

Side note: alt-creators have real currency at the moment. The video for singer Charli XCX’s latest single 360, an ode to the “hot internet girl”, features It-models Gabbriette and Alex Consani (both on the Marc Jacobs roster, along with Charli XCX herself) as well as OG internet gal pal Quen Blackwell and Julia Fox. See also Tara Yummy.

The campaign is not without its critics, who would probably say this is just another form of internet appropriation, of a brand trading off the creativity of others. But while other luxury brands are only just loosening and allowing behind-the-scenes content to filter through their feed for example (Stella McCartney, here) or are adopting TikTok tropes with mainstream stars (such as Loewe here), Marc Jacobs has just decided to throw open the doors of the TikTok asylum and welcome everyone in. It may be mad, but it’s a mood. 

By Emilie McMeekan, features director for CORQ.