Virgil Abloh has been appointed the new artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear, following the departure last week of Kim Jones.
Abloh, whose own label, Off White, is one of fashion’s most talked-about breakout brands, is the first designer of colour to hold such a high-profile position. Louis Vuitton is the world’s biggest luxury brand, worth £20.30bn in May 2017. The only other designer of colour at a major brand is Olivier Roustieng, who is creative director of Balmain.
Abloh, 37, preempted the official announcement by posting an image of a Louis Vuitton trunk to his 1.6 million Instagram followers on Monday morning. Shortly after, Louis Vuitton released a statement confirming the news.
Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton’s chairman and CEO, praised how Abloh’s “innate creativity and disruptive approach have made him so relevant, not just in the world of fashion but in popular culture today”. Abloh said of Louis Vuitton: “I find the heritage and creative integrity of the house are key inspirations and will look to reference them both while drawing parallels to modern times.”
Born in Rockford, Illinois, Abloh studied engineering and architecture. After he met Kanye West while working as DJ, he designed the rapper’s merchandise. During his time with West, he interned at Fendi in 2006, where he met Burke. Off White began in 2013, with womenswear launched two years later. It swiftly won accolades including the Urban Luxe Brand at London’s Fashion awards in 2017.
LVMH, Louis Vuitton’s parent company, will be hoping Abloh brings his significant fanbase to the brand. The designercreated several sellout items with his streetwear-to-the-catwalk brand, Off White.
His Ten trainers for Nike last year prompted large queues at stores when they were released; a pair is for sale on eBay for nearly £1,500. His upcoming collection for Ikea is expected to prompt similar hysteria.
Abloh’s appointment represents a new wave in fashion and demonstrates that the industry is now taking streetwear seriously. According to a report by Bain & Company, streetwear provided a 5% boost to luxury goods in 2017. Off White’s aesthetic hits the sweet spot between streetwear and high fashion. It shows in Paris with models including Bella Hadid and Naomi Campbell, but it is principally known for hoodies and T-shirts with a signature diagonal stripe.
Abloh’s reference points plug into that of a millennial customer whose primary source of pop culture is their Instagram feed. Arguably, his appointment continues where Jones left off – the British designer masterminded the sellout collaboration between Louis Vuitton and streetwear powerhouse Supreme last year.
Abloh will continue with Off White after taking up his position at Louis Vuitton. While his own brand creates men’s and women’s collections, Abloh will solely design menswear for the house. His first collection will be in June. With Jones now installed at fellow LVMH brand Dior Homme, the conglomerate will dominate the menswear season, with two high-profile debut shows within days of each other.