LETTER FROM LEANNE: Marc for the people

The limited-edition Marc by Marc Jacobs tote ($48), created exclusively for Holt Renfrew, and on sale now. Part of the proceeds go to support Vision Spring, a non-profit organization providing affordable sunglasses to people in the developing world.

Story by Leanne Delap, who will be writing a regular column for The Style Notebook.

Carry-alls have become an important accessory. We all drive, bicycle, or tote on transit, many grocery and sundry bags. You feel like a criminal carrying a plastic bag, so you collect reusable totes in a way you never would have predicted. I love the oddball, though curated, cloth sacs I grab: a Harrods bag, one from a bookshop in Martha’s Vineyard, a Toronto Public Library tote, and a plasti-straw Marc Jacobs tote with retro red piping.

So I was intrigued when Holt Renfrew recently launched a limited-edition charity bag from Marc by Marc Jacobs. The bags are like the Prada parachute fabric: High-tech with a sheen. The front is the logo in the form of an eye chart. In short, the kind of item you see and unreasonably want, whatever that says about me-slash-us.

Now, one of my favourite places in the world is the Marc Jacobs shop in Boston. It is like the penny-candy store of fashion. Beside the $750 (US) boots and bags from the designer label, there is an orgy of cheap goodies. Glass cocktail orb rings for a dollar; paisley fold-up umbrellas for $18; kooky striped socks in a PVC packet labelled “Marc Jacobs”; $40 versions of the designer’s “constant inspiration”: slouchy knit caps and homey knit scarves à la Ali McGraw in Love Story; cheesy souvenir-shop Indian-beaded naïf wallets at 12 bucks, complete with a stamp saying “Marc Jacobs” inside.

Jacobs perverted the logo, sticking it on flotsam. And it did not diminish his indie sheen. At his Paris shop in the Palais Royale, the way the brand is presented is a luxe shift. The ready-to-wear collection is dotted by just a few displays of the self-consciously mass gear: A few stocking caps for the euro equivalent of some $38, some Rufus Wainwright T-shirts beside T-shirts commemorating the launches of Marc Jacobs’s stores in Moscow and Turkey.

The brand has blurred the lines between designer and runway. And the “second” line, Marc by Marc Jacobs. The entire thing is of course overseen by the designer, but the diffusion line has its own team.

The genius of the retail and marketing concept is that in exclusive locations at least, you can buy Marc for a dollar. But the novelty items are not widely available—Jacobs doesn’t do internet or Target—so the boutique souvenirs end up being ironic art pieces.

The Holt Renfrew bags are $48. Proceeds, estimated by Holt Renfrew’s new president Mark Derbyshire (giving back is seemingly a big corporate push in his regime) to raise about $80,000 for the charity of the Marc Jacobs’s folks choice: Vision Share, a non-profit that provides affordable glasses to developing countries. (Hence the eye-chart iteration of the logo.)

As a person with really dire vision, I love the cause. And I love limited-edition items. This initiative fits nicely with the Marc Jacobs brand as I know it at retail. Clever, exclusive and  thoughtful: Holt Renfrew gets a zippy promotion; Marc by Marc Jacobs gets its logo out there as an exclusive promotion; a great glasses charity gets money. All good.

Plus, every morning when you reach for a carry-all to stuff in your bag for errands, this tote will be a guiltless designer pleasure.

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