So far this year, the fashion industry's never-ending game of musical chairs has seen Hedi Slimane replace Phoebe Philo at Celine (where, intriguingly, he's due to launch menswear), Riccardo Tisci head to Burberry as Christopher Bailey exits, and Kim Jones leave Louis Vuitton to take Kris Van Assche's seat at Dior Homme.
That's all small fry compared to Monday's earth-shattering announcement that Virgil Abloh has been appointed as the new artistic director of menswear Louis Vuitton. Abloh, who has no formal fashion training and made his name as Kanye West's right-hand man before taking the world by storm with his label Off-White, will now be directing menswear at the world's biggest fashion house.
Like last year's Supreme x Louis Vuitton collab, this is a sign that streetwear has officially broken through to the establishment. The mix of high-end and streetwear looks — something that Abloh has pioneered via Off-White — is now the norm, and is driving vast profits for certain sections of the industry. As is so often the case with Abloh's work, the designer's move to Vuitton has divided opinion. To some, it's the dawn of a new era in fashion, to others, it's a sad triumph of hype over originality.
To get the low-down on what Virgil's power move means for the industry, I hit up six heavyweight editors from some of the industry's most well-respected publications to get their thoughts on what's sure to be one of the biggest stories of the year.
"Virgil’s appointment is a significant power move for the Vuitton brand, and one that marks a generational shift. Following so quickly on Kim Jones’ success, Virgil’s arrival is a clear signal that LVMH has taken learnings from the runaway success of the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collab, wants to compound the new market Kim found, and propel the momentum even further forward.
It’s going to be exciting to see how Virgil will exercise his ability to capture the loyalty and respect he has amongst young men and teenagers, and equally fascinating that an establishment French luxury company now sees owning that market as tactically crucial. It opens a new front in the luxury brand wars, that’s for sure.
What’s nice, though, is that Kim and Virgil are friends — the comradely rivalry is going to be off the scale in June when Kim shows Dior Homme and Virgil Louis Vuitton men’s. Followers will be spoilt for choice — but either way, LVMH wins.”
— Sarah Mower, Chief Critic, Vogue Runway
"I'm wary of extrapolating lessons for the entire industry from the appointment of one designer, even at a house as big or important as Louis Vuitton. That said, Virgil Abloh's appointment makes a lot of sense to me. Mr. Abloh isn't a designer in a particularly classic sense of the term — he doesn't have formal design training in fashion, though he is a trained architect — but in a way that seems to make sense for 2018: He's a kind of seismograph, a sensitive observer of the vibes that whip around the world at digital speed, and the interesting and potentially innovative ways in which they can be combined.
He brings less originality, I think, than context and re-contextualization — I always take that to be the point of his ever-present air quotes, that he's saying things others have said, but in his own voice. Vuitton comes with a language of its own, from the monogram up. The house has already proven they're not universally precious about it, and have been open to seeing how it mixes with popular culture and outside interference — not only with the Supreme collaboration, but with Murakami (Virgil's recent collaborator), Kusama, Prince.
I think more so than following in the line of Kim Jones, the outgoing artistic director, Mr. Abloh is picking up that other strand of Vuitton history. It'll be interesting to see where he takes it."
— Matthew Schneier, Reporter, The New York Times
"I think the appointment of Mr Abloh at LV was long overdue: the rumors have been circulating for months. It actually makes sense with the current fashion climate. The appointment is a reflection of our hype- and communication-driven times: design is not high on the agenda.
Mr. 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. He can dish out easy products with a very cool factor attached to them. He has a huge following, most of all. That's what I believe he will bring to LV. And with that, of course, comes a new clientele, attracted by all the hype. Will it last? Who knows.
On my side, I think hiring creative directors on the basis of their social media following is very short sighted. Success will ensue on the short term, but I think overlooking design for hype might be destructive on the long run. Then again, I might be wrong."
— Angelo Flaccavento, Contributing Editor, Business of Fashion
"I see the future of Louis Vuitton as pretty bright. Louis Vuitton simply reflects what the market wants. And the market for luxury fashion is currently not necessarily interested in refined fashion design that's understandable for the chosen few, but in pieces that generate energy digitally and represent meaning to their generation.
It doesn’t care whether the designer is an amateur or came through the ranks of the fashion world. After Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and Alessandro Michele at Gucci (both Kering brands), the appointment of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton (LVMH) represents the final shift of the fashion industry towards Millennials and Gen Z. If anyone has ever worked hard and dreamt big, it is Virgil. And I am very happy it worked out!"
— Jörg Koch, Editor-in-Chief and Founder, 032c
"Over the last ten years, Virgil has single-handedly created a new aspirational paradigm: The high-flying creative multi-hyphenate. He’s a creative director. A fashion designer. A DJ. He’s also a walking Rolodex, a diamond traveler, a motivational speaker, a super-collaborator, a social media influencer, and a guy-behind-the-guy.
It’s strange that we now exist in an era where almost as many people dream of living the life of Kanye’s creative director as of Kanye himself—but here we are. Virgil did that. He’s done it by flying around the world freelancing, making stuff via text message and FaceTime — doing that alluring and impossible-to-pin-down Virgil thing.
I think it’s groundbreaking for Louis Vuitton to hand over the keys to its menswear business to a young black American from outside Chicago. And I think it’s modern of the brand to recognize that a kid who came up watching both James Jebbia and Martin Margiela equally might have the codes. But most of all, I think it’s smart of Louis Vuitton to recognize that a luxury lifestyle brand might be most effectively lead by a designer who is a new aspirational lifestyle unto himself.
I suspect that the relationship will be successful for Louis Vuitton and Virgil alike—just look at what happened when Nike opened up the archives and let Virgil loose. And while I’ll miss following along as Virgil does his thing from the WiFi signals of whatever airplane lounge or hotel lobby he finds himself in, answering to nobody but his own instincts and whoever’s on the next project’s group text, it’s time for a new phase. And hey, we don’t have to wait long to find out what happens—the new phase begins in June."
— Will Welch, Editor-in-Chief, GQ Style
"I am very disappointed, though absolutely not surprised by Abloh's appointment. It was only a matter of time that a luxury brand that wants to capitalize on Abloh's hype machine would make such a move. Now Louis Vuitton will only amplify the hype with its own marketing machine. For Louis Vuitton this represents a major business opportunity, because hitherto its menswear has been an afterthought. In retrospect, last year's collaboration with Supreme looks like a trial run for what we are witnessing today.
In terms of dollar signs, I envision a bright future for LV. Expect the same boring, easily-digestible menswear archetypes Abloh has been churning out at Off-White, only with Louis Vuitton logo on them; and, obviously, a slew of collaborations. Abloh's hiring is a disservice to fashion at large, and will only contribute to the dismal state of contemporary fashion. Here is the thing: fashion is a creative industry, and a certain duty to creativity has always been implicit into the behavior of its players. Clearly, Louis Vuitton executives think this is no longer the case, and that the only duty they have is to their bottom line."
— Eugene Rabkin, Editor-in-Chief and Founder, Style Zeitgeist