Fashion Critics Are Split on Virgil Abloh’s Move to Louis Vuitton
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