V for Virgil
Abloh is actually Vuitton’s first black design lead (one of the first at any heritage fashion house, in fact) even though he has no formal fashion training.
Fun fact: Abloh’s parents let him DJ at the weekend but expected him to get a proper job, which explains how he wound up studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin.
Not many people can say 'hey this guy changed the game', but in the case of Virgil Abloh's appointment as Louis Vuitton's artistic director in March 2018, he can be justified as a Game Changer.
He made himself a name through the streetwear aesthetic of his own brands Pyrex Vision and Off-White, not to mention his role as creative director to a certain Kanye West, is now the highest height of fashion.
The world’s most influential fashion designer was actually born in 1980 in Rockford, Illinois, to Ghanian immigrant parents (his mother was a seamstress, his dad managed a paint factory), Abloh grew up skateboarding, playing soccer, watching Michael Jordan and listening to NWA and Guns N’Roses like “an average sort of suburban kid”.
Virgil's move in Vuitton has been characterised as a historic victory for diversity in the so-white industry or a triumph of hype over substance. We all know it's impossible for brand to grow big without hype!
Abloh is now in a uniquely powerful position to change what you wear.
Well, of course that is if you fortunate to afford to shop at Vuitton, but just by looking at the colours, shapes and pieces, your eyes will start rolling!
Thanks to his cultural connections, plus collaborations with everyone from Ikea to Nike, he can influence at scale – and even redefine what you consider “luxury”.
One of the most critical theme in Abloh’s career is his belief that great design should be accessible to everyone. He’s collaborated with mass market brands like Ikea, Champion and high-end brands like Moncler.
But also through Off-White, he’s taken humble basics–T-shirts, track pants, hoodies–and turned them into works of art by making small tweaks to their construction or materials.
The larger message here seems to be that luxury isn’t necessarily about a price point or particular consumer: it’s about attention to detail! What is there to earn for Louis Vuitton!
For decades, luxury fashion has revolved around exclusivity. Heritage European brands made outstanding products in limited quantities, deliberately priced beyond what most people could afford. They were slow to include people of colour in their runway shows and advertising spreads. Vuitton is no exception.
Last year was the first time in its 163-year history that it opened a runway show with a black model, a moved that was widely interpreted as a sign of how backward the brand is when it comes to diversity. And there, the word 'Game Changer' pops up for Abloh!
As artistic director for menswear, Abloh will be responsible for a relatively small part of Louis Vuitton’s business. Menswear is currently sold in just a third of the brand’s 450 stores worldwide, although the company told the New York Times that it plans to increase this figure and introduce more menswear stores.
In fact, Abloh has the potential to have a powerful impact on the marketplace and beyond–and he knows it, telling the Times that he is interested in “rethinking how the brand communicated with its consumers, including the release of products, the runway show, and the way it interacted with the global political mood.”
Now Abloh has the potential not only to attract a broader audiences to a prestigious–but perhaps, slightly staid–heritage brand.
He could also use his influence to change the very definition of high fashion in the way that he elevates street culture and highlights the artistic contributions of black artists, musicians, and designers. By bringing Abloh on, Vuitton may finally be recognising that streetwear is the new luxury!