After months of speculation, Louis Vuitton confirmed that Virgil Abloh is the fashion house’s new artistic director of menswear, filling the spot left by Kim Jones‘ departure earlier this year. The news is groundbreaking, as Abloh becomes the first African American artistic director in Louis Vuitton’s history and one of only three black designers to ever take a senior design role with a French heritage house.
The move also represents a shift in the industry, with Abloh’s appointment showing a further merging of streetwear and traditional luxury fashion. In this regard, the appointment builds on years of work from his predecessor — which arguably culminated with last year’s Supreme collaboration –to blur the lines between the two. As Abloh begins work on his debut collection for the brand — to be shown at Paris Fashion Week in June — we caught up with fashion industry insiders to see what they think of the news.
Was this news a surprise?
Samuel Ross, Founder & Creative Director at A-COLD-WALL*: It’s great news, Virgil has tirelessly carved and rendered a smart output and new window in the fashion world, it’s both digestible, commerce-inducing whilst remaking unexpected and clever menswear.
Angelo Flaccavento, Critic: It was not, and not only because the rumors have been circulating for months. The appointment is a perfect reflection of our hype — and communication — driven times. Abloh is not a design genius but he is a smart communicator. He is not the most cultured of designers but he can talk the system into believing so. Most of all, he can dish out easy products with a very cool aura. What’s not to love, judging from the Louis Vuitton perspective?
Stavros Karelis, Founder & Buying Director at MACHINE-A: I think it was widely speculated that Virgil will be named as the menswear designer for Louis Vuitton, together with all the recent changes of Mr. Kim Jones, Hedi Slimane and Riccardo Tisci. However, no one really knows until the official announcement happens, as many things can change until last minute.
Lawrence Schlossman, Brand Director at Grailed: Even though rumors about Virgil’s appointment at Louis Vuitton have been circulating since even before Kim Jones stepped down, I still think this deal being official is absolutely surprising.
“I couldn’t imagine anyone better than Virgil to carry on the legacy that Mr. Kim Jones left.”
How do you think Abloh will change Louis Vuitton?
Angelo Flaccavento: He will bring a street-oriented, younger sensibility I guess. Unless he wants to show the world he is a proper designer and goes the experimental route — which is the worst scenario.
Stavros Karelis: I think Virgil with the vast amount of work that has produced in the recent years with his Off-White™ brand has proven that he talks to a very wide spectrum of audience with a cultural and political message always attached to his work. His collaborations and choice of different mediums to express his work have been extremely popular in a way that very few have managed to do in recent times. The young generation adores him and the older generation cannot help but admire not only the end product but the dialogue and social impact he generates. Louis Vuitton with Mr. Kim Jones did establish a similar approach to what men want from fashion, always bringing the two worlds of luxury and streetwear closer and closer. To this approach I couldn’t imagine anyone better than Virgil to carry on the legacy that Mr. Kim Jones left and transforming the iconic brand and its logo through a wide range of mediums and ideas all connected to youth, street culture and social awareness.
Lawrence Schlossman: I think Virgil will continue Kim Jones’ legacy of injecting much-needed energy into one of the most storied fashion houses of all time and shape the entire men’s business in a progressive manner.
Joerg Koch: Louis Vuitton has already changed by appointing a black amateur designer as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton Menswear.
“The appointment is a perfect reflection of our hype — and communication — driven times. Abloh is not a design genius but he is a smart communicator.”
How do you think Abloh’s work at Louis Vuitton will differ from his work at Off-White™?
Angelo Flaccavento: I think he will stress the luxury factor at Louis Vuitton, but I don’t think that the aesthetic will be a massive shift from Off-White™. Then again, I might be completely wrong.
Stavros Karelis: Louis Vuitton is one of the most powerful recognisable brands worldwide. Is the epitome of luxury and logo success. However as a super-power luxury house they need to connect with the young generation of customers,to remain current and to connect their heritage with current important causes. In that aspect Virgil can open a whole new world for the brand, as this is what he did with his own brand. The difference is the scale and the huge audience that Louis Vuitton has in comparison to Virgil’s brand. Louis Vuitton is a luxury brand moving to a more street culture. Virgil started from the street culture and is moving to luxury. Perhaps the starting points have been different but the appointment of Virgil comes in a time that both of these terms are re-defined. I think that the end product will differ but the process reaching to it will be quite similar to what he has done all these years, re-addressing these terms and make them more relevant to what they mean in today’s world.
Lawrence Schlossman: One has to think there will be a clear delineation between his work with Louis Vuitton moving forward and his core business at Off-White™. If that’s not the directive, one would expect a different move, like LVMH acquiring Off-White™, which may still happen at some point. Either way, I expect Virgil to lean into what he already does extremely well at Off-White™, specifically accessories and collaboration.
Joerg Koch: Louis Vuitton is obviously a different context than Off-White™. Virgil will act accordingly.
What is the significance of this move for streetwear?
Angelo Flaccavento: I think this is the final glorification of streetwear. Which, probably, is also the swansong.
Stavros Karelis: We all know that the power of streetwear and street culture is such, that fashion mega houses need this connection now more than ever. Street culture talks to a vast audience and demographic, is diverse, is fast and is representing much better what it is actually happening in society and signals many political and cultural issues. I think is a Renaissance for streetwear but only the ones that have a significant meaning and cultural connection attach to them.
Lawrence Schlossman: Whether or not streetwear needs or wants it, Virgil Abloh’s appointment at Louis Vuitton is just more validation from the fashion establishment that the subculture is firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to both aesthetics and business.
Joerg Koch: The appointment of Virgil Abloh is historical because it signals street wear becoming the new establishment. The big luxury fashion groups (first Kering, now LVMH) simply act upon the market realities. Who drives the digital buzz, who creates the energy, who shops the luxury goods? It is millennials and Gen Z. Virgil Abloh was brought up by this generation and got his pulse on them. In today’s world this is more important for an established fashion house than having a designer with proper fashion education at the helm.
“Whether or not streetwear needs or wants it, Virgil Abloh’s appointment at Louis Vuitton is just more validation from the fashion establishment…”
What do you think it means for the outdated structures of the fashion industry?
Angelo Flaccavento: This is the revenge of the smart non-professional over the system. A triumph of make-believe over real design content.
Stavros Karelis: I think that many industry people are revisiting and redefining these structures that have been in place for decades some of which are truly not representative of what’s happening today. I think it’s always good to adjust, to progress and to not be afraid to experiment.
Lawrence Schlossman: Virgil Abloh is now patient zero for influential people of color finally getting their due within the often all too closed off and backwards thinking fashion industry. Sure, that comes with all the pressure in the world, but is absolutely a step in the right direction. One can hope this is only the beginning.
How do you think Louis Vuitton’s traditional customer base will receive this appointment?
Angelo Flaccavento: I think this is all about getting new customers. And the older will probably feel younger.
Stavros Karelis: I think that the traditional Louis Vuitton customer is the one that seeks innovation, uniqueness, luxury but in today’s terms: Luxury is quite possibly a limited edition item, that embodies a unique take on something that has heritage, and works as a medium to channel significant beliefs and cultural connections. In that sense I think that the traditional customers of Louis Vuitton will welcome Virgil’s approach and vision to the brand.
Lawrence Schlossman: I think Kim Jones already put in a ton of groundwork getting the blueprint in place for Louis Vuitton’s men’s business to thrive with someone like Virgil at the helm. The brand is one of the most popular houses with young people all over the world and this move should only galvanize their brand loyalty after installing seemingly “one of their own” in a position of power.
Joerg Koch: I don’t think there is such a big shock transition from Kim Jones to Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton’s menswear for the customers. I think customers look for energising moment and Virgil will surely deliver on this.