Case Study: Heaven by Marc Jacobs
October 13, 2022
By: Grace Tan
In September 2020, Marc Jacobs launched their first ever direct-to-consumer clothing line: Heaven. By heavily targeting consumers in Generation Z, Heaven quickly developed a cult following among teenagers and young adults submerged in “alternative” street styles and internet culture. In Heaven’s words, they are “a gateway into the sprawling and enigmatic omniverse of Marc Jacobs subversion”; aiming to serve a new generation of trendsetters and youth who go against the grain. Backed by Marc Jacobs but creatively directed by Ava Nirui, Heaven has cultivated a unique brand identity and marketing strategy that utilizes the internet and trend analysis.
Courtesy of Heaven by Marc Jacobs
Who is Heaven?
Heaven’s brand identity is one that relies heavily on underground styles and references to niche media. This is shown by the clothing they produce, which pulls heavily from Harajuku street style and DIY fashion. One of their most famous pieces, the Kiki Boots, which are a pair of 7-inch-tall platform shoes, are reminiscent of the platform shoes popular in Kawaii fashion, a subculture of Harajuku style. Heaven also heavily references the 90s and early 2000s popular culture, releasing a knit sweater vest of ET and a collection of pieces featuring scenes from The Virgin Suicides in September of 2021.
Beyond Heaven’s unique clothing prints and stand-out two-headed bear logo, they reinforce their brand identity through other products such as zines, posters, and photo books. In almost every drop, Heaven releases a reprint of a photo book or zine that explores a certain subculture or time period. Past titles include In My Room: Teenagers in their Bedrooms by Adrienne Salinger which explores adolescence in the 90s through the private sanctuaries of everyday teens and Happy Victims, a photo series by Kyoichi Tsuzuki that documents consumer culture and collecting in Japan. Heaven later did a Happy Victims-inspired photoshoot with their own customers, releasing a series of photos on Instagram showcasing Heaven fans and their collections, demonstrating the attention to detail Heaven pays to their online presence and how in tune they are with their customer base.
Most recently, Heaven released a Fallen Angels movie pamphlet and teased an upcoming Wong Kar-Wai clothing collection. This coincides very well with the increased exposure Wong, and specifically, his film Fallen Angels has been receiving on TikTok, exemplifying Heaven’s ability to capitalize on trends while they are still in the early majority phase.
Heaven’s strategy to establish its brand identity through association with different artists was evident from the very beginning of the brand. Shoichi Aoki, the owner of FRUiTS magazine, a publication documenting Japanese street fashion, was enlisted to do the launch pictures for Heaven, and it was through this collaboration that Heaven began initially receiving attention from their target demographic. Aoki had been on hiatus since 2017, claiming that there are “no more cool kids to photograph”. Followers of his work were then drawn to Heaven, as they believed that what brought this photographer out of his hiatus must be something special.
Photographed by Shoichi Aoki
By re-releasing these cultural artifacts, Heaven aligns itself with these renowned artists and photographers that also have cult followings. Consumers either see these products and, if they know them, feel more aligned with and connected to Heaven’s message and brand identity, but if they don’t know about them, they get to discover new artists and photographers that they now associate with the brand.
Finding Its Niche
Heaven is one of the savviest brands when it comes to marketing; they have their finger right on the pulse of what is popular or what is about to be popular. The clothes Heaven makes pull heavily from East Asian alternative and subversive street styles. The commitment to subversion and alternative aesthetics is reinforced heavily through the celebrities they choose to put in their campaigns. This is best illustrated in the celebrities and influencers they choose to feature in their campaigns. Beabadoobee, Charli XCX, Ecco2k, Pamela Anderson, etc. These celebrities, though perhaps not well-known to the general public, have cult followings within their respective niches, whether it be indie music, hyper-pop, or avid pop culture consumers. By targeting audiences through these niche celebrities, Heaven actually reaches a wider audience as opposed to if they marketed to a more general demographic. Though many of these artists have quantitatively smaller followings, they have more passionate fans who are more willing to purchase and follow the brands that their favorite celebrity wears.
Heaven has also featured celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and Steve Lacy in their brand campaigns and their clothes have also been seen on several celebrities including Bella Hadid and Olivia Rodrigo and influencers like Emma Chamberlain. Heaven also utilizes smaller, micro-influencers such as Enya Umanzor for marketing, which gives a more organic feel to their marketing. Because of Heaven’s relative affordability, especially in relation to other luxury brands, these are often people who genuinely align with their message, and brand identity, and actually wear the clothes.
Courtesy of Heaven by Marc Jacobs
For some time, it was a trend on TikTok to cast who you would want in the next Heaven campaign. Some people took it seriously, including actors like Mia Goth and artists like Shygirl, while others jokingly chose people like Wendy Williams or app characters, like Talking Angela. Even these joking choices seem on brand with Heaven because of their association with internet culture and humor, solidifying their brand identity as being for the non-mainstream. This trend also goes to show how integral the people Heaven partners with are to its brand identity.
Heaven’s marketing strategy is nothing short of genius, but because Heaven relies so heavily on trends, what will happen to Heaven’s brand identity when the current thrifting, 90s aesthetic is no longer popular anymore? Moreover, what is really subversive about a brand that pulls from and appropriates the aesthetic of DIY while being mass-produced?
Already, consumers that were once fully captivated by and aligned with Heaven’s aesthetic and message have begun complaining that Heaven no longer feels authentic and that the new designs they create and celebrities they choose to partner with feeling hollow. The issue with creating a brand identity that revolves around subversion and authenticity is that it is only a façade that can only last so long as the brand remains small and niche, which is ironic because that was never Heaven’s intent in the first place. Therefore, the disillusionment prior Heaven fans are now experiencing is perhaps only natural once the process of corporatization and popularization has taken place.
Grace Tan is a Sophomore studying Media, Culture, and Communications at NYU Steinhardt and is on the Content Committee for the Fall 2022 semester. Keep an eye out for more exciting content from Grace!