I overslept this morning, waking up a bit past 9AM. By that time the announcement that LVMH — the world’s most influential luxury conglomerate — had taken a majority 60 percent stake in Virgil Abloh’s Off-White™ trademark had broken. News like that will ironically spread like wildfire among the same fashion media players that once dismissed Abloh’s efforts to break into the fashion industry the unconventional way. A decade on, how wrong they were.
Abloh will maintain a 40 percent interest in the company he founded in 2013, while keeping his current role as Off-White™’s Creative Director, and Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton Men’s — a title he’s held since March 2018. New Guards Group will remain an operating partner for Off-White™.
Additionally, LVMH and Abloh have signed an agreement which will see the creative director launch new brands under LVMH and partner with a selection of the group’s dozens of existing ones beyond the realm of fashion, including its Wines & Spirits division (Dom Perignon, Moet & Chandon, Hennessy), Perfumes & Cosmetics (Acqua Di Parma, Guerlain, Marc Jacobs Beauty), Watches & Jewelry (Tiffany & Co., Tag Heuer, Bvlgari), Selective Retailing (Le Bon Marche, Sephora, La Samaritaine), and Other Activities. Exact details of the scope and timeline of Abloh’s expanded role within the French group weren’t disclosed.
“For nearly a decade, we’ve been building Off-White™ to be a brand designed to empower our generation and challenge the status quo. LVMH brings to the table the additional firepower and scale to accelerate our momentum and evolve Off-White™ into a truly multi-line luxury brand,” said Abloh. “I’m also honored to use this partnership to deepen my longstanding commitment to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion in the industries we serve. This is an incredible new platform to take the disruption we’ve achieved together to a whole new level.”
Michael Burke, Chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton, added: “From groundbreaking fashion shows to the creation of a new contemporary men’s fashion language, Virgil has made a lasting imprint on Louis Vuitton. By breaking down borders and proclaiming a profoundly inclusive philosophy, Virgil has extended the reach of Louis Vuitton’s luxury world.”
The luxury fashion world in its entirety, one can argue. People like to hate on Abloh, and whether these critiques are valid or not, the influential, boundary-free way of thinking the designer has brought to the status-quo loving fashion industry over the past decade can’t be denied.
From injecting unscripted storytelling around product, seamlessly executed across platforms; to cross-pollinating creative disciplines (from art to music to consumer goods) to rethink what, and who, is touched by (fashion) products; to setting an example of what it means to give back to communities that are systematically kept out of the industry; to serving as fashion’s most visible cultural curator; without the anyone’s permission, Abloh has shown what the industry could become, if it only opened its mind, and doors, just that bit more.
Now it’s time to look beyond fashion, in a bigger way. This time, the industry is coming along. Whether it’s Balenciaga collaborating with Gucci (and vice versa), Jacquemus launching a pop-up flower shop, or Aime Leon Dore selling a curated collection of non own-brand product, from vintage posters to vinyl, en masse fashion brands are stating to rejig the meaning of a “fashion brand” by expanding their brand universes as a way to diversify their revenue streams, and brand value propositions, beyond fashion product.
I predict in the not so far future, we’ll see a luxury brand like Gucci host a physical festival with performances by its brand ambassadors like Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Florence Welch, where Massimo Botura and other chefs operate top notch food stalls right next to the pop-up gallery space with emerging artists, while local friends of the house, influencers and the public are invited to immerse themselves into the Gucci universe. What a luxury brand represents is turned on its head when the product then becomes a means, not the end.
That mindset is one from Abloh’s playbook. I remember speaking to him in 2016 for The Business of Fashion, pre-Louis Vuitton days when Off-White™’s Instagram following was at a “mere” 569,000, his personal page at 600,000 (today these are at 10.7 million and 6.1 respectively). Back then, he told me about wanting to shift the view the fashion industry had on streetwear being cheap, wanting to modernize fashion, and steer a luxury fashion house, Off-White™ simply being a case study for his new ideas that related to modern consumers.
“I’m not going to choose between the mother or the teenager. It's a more wide open and less specific thing that I'm banking on,” he said. “With fashion you have to choose if you're high-end, contemporary or streetwear, men's or women's, Off-White™ is between black and white, there is no choice. It’s the idea that I wouldn't decide, which relates more to the consumer.”
Since then, Abloh’s accomplished every one of these goals and more. Now, with a “seat at the table” just watch where he takes us next.