A dark fountain and a nightmarish carousel with inky horses were the backdrop for a universe of clothes all in black. Maids cleaned away dust from the steps of the disturbing set, which traced Jacobs' influential 16-year reign at Vuitton.
Shortly after the show at the Louvre Museum in Paris, the visual metaphor was explained: French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton announced that Jacobs was stepping down as creative director of its flagship brand.
Jacobs, who is also the director of an eponymous brand, is one of the biggest names in the fashion industry. Under his tenure, Louis Vuitton became the most lucrative fashion house in the world, in part thanks to his creation of a ready-to-wear line.
LVMH, which owns the Louis Vuitton brand and an array of other luxury names purveying everything from jewelry to champagne, would not say who would replace Jacobs or what his next move would be.
From her front-row seat, U.S. Vogue editor Anna Wintour gave Jacobs an ovation at Wednesday's show.
"Fashion needs rock stars, and they don't come any starrier than Marc at Louis Vuitton," she told The Associated Press in an email. "He has always understood that it is a house about travel, and every season he has taken us on incredible journeys with his spectacular shows — shows that made Vuitton a global phenomenon but always brought you back to the heart of Paris."
Such visible acclaim from the powerful editor — to whom he partly dedicated the show — is extremely rare.
On the Vuitton catwalk, models filed by in jet-black warrior-feathered headdresses as they displayed Jacobs' 41 designs. The pieces used embroidered black tulle stockings, Eisenhower jackets embellished with large feathered shoulders, dark embroideries, smoking jackets and some 1940s baggy blue jeans.
The glimmering landscape was towered over by a huge clock whose arm went back in time. It was as if the designer was trying to look to the past — or even get some precious time back.
Even the clothes went back in time. Floor-length, thick Edwardian dresses with large sleeves fused with black decorative corset details, evoking fashions of the 1900s and contrasting with the more revealing "showgirl" looks.
"We went back and used all the different bits of the sets of the past and made them black," Jacobs explained backstage. He didn't elaborate on his plans or comment on reports that he's focusing on a possible public offering for the Marc Jacobs brand.
Jacobs expanded the Vuitton brand from its iconic bags into clothes, launching ready-to-wear and shoe collections in 1998. At the time, it was seen as a marketing strategy to help raise the profile of the luxury house, which began as a leather bag and case maker in 19th-century Paris, when aristocratic women needed fashionable travel bags.
While Vuitton's clothes are not a red-carpet staple, Jacobs' shows always attract A-list celebrities. Kate Moss has been a muse for him, and director Sofia Coppola has just made a series of handbags for Louis Vuitton.
Coppola, Princess Charlene of Monaco and the Hollywood's Fanning sisters were among those at Wednesday's show.
In the program notes, Jacobs enclosed an emotional message to LVMH's CEO: "For... Bernard Arnault. All my love, always."
Glenda Bailey, the influential U.S. editor of Harper's Bazaar, said the show signalled "an end of an era."
"Watching the show was like seeing your life flash before your eyes, because there were so many memorable moments referenced," she told the AP, referring to touches like "Louis Vuitton" prints, corsetry shapes, high-collared sweeping silhouettes or large, embroidered paillettes.
"Marc brought such incredible energy to Louis Vuitton and should really be celebrated for bringing that house to life, and creating the vision that someone else will now take forward," Bailey added.
Bailey would not speculate on rumours that Jacobs will be replaced by designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, who left Balenciaga last November. But she said the new designer will have unique opportunities thanks to LVMH's solid financial footing.
Samantha Critchell in New York and Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this report.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAPSuggest a correction