Why Virgil Abloh's Appointment as Men's Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton Matters

PARIS, France - Virgil is off to Vuitton. The formal announcement confirming Off-White Founder and Creative Director Virgil Abloh as the new Men's Artistic Director of French luxury house Louis Vuitton was made public today worldwide.

Virgil Abloh. Photo Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Virgil Abloh. Photo Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Despite a flurry of rumors, Abloh's appointment to Louis Vuitton, part of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury group, is near as remarkable as Edward Enninful's appointment to Editor-In-Chief of British Vogue late last year, if not more so. The history of black creative directors at these storied European luxury houses has been discouraging with few examples to laud, save Ozwald Boateng who was at Givenchy from 2003 to 2007 before launching his own eponymous label and rare others. At the time of this writing, the only other current black creative director of a major European luxury brand is Olivier Rousteing, who has held the role of Creative Director of Balmain since 2011.

The word of the hour is relevance. With an increasingly challenged retail landscape, particularly in the United States, a changing of the guard preempts any serious change to the product and communications strategy of the globally-ambitious brand, including one such as Louis Vuitton with over 450 stores around the world. Diversity at the highest levels of leadership in the fashion industry must take priority as it will always be relevant to be reflective of today's multi-dimensional identity-manifold consumer base with unparalleled access to information at their fingertips. This appointment marks a monumental shift in the ongoing musical chairs, seeing in many cases entrenched editors, executives, and design directors shuttle between brands or leave the industry altogether. Representation must go beyond simply hires presented for brand-enhancing public consumption, but also take root in the layers of corporate and creative hierarchy where people of color are often precluded from these brand-defining roles.

Given historic exclusion from luxury's hallowed halls, Abloh defined his own path to victory, no doubt inspired by his co-collaborator Kanye West, a pioneer in breaking boundaries within the prohibitively closed fashion industry. Founding cult streetwear brand Off-White in 2013, multi-hyphenate Abloh chose to adopt a purposely democratic approach in his visual aesthetic and his tongue-in-cheek design motifs while still maintaining a luxury sensibility. In fact, Ghanaian-American Abloh has already established a culture of mentoring the next generation of talent, including Heron Preston and Samuel Ross of A Cold Wall, the latter of whom was nominated for the prestigious LVMH Prize (of which Abloh was a finalist in 2015).

Louis Vuitton Chairman and CEO shared the following statement, "Having followed with great interest Virgil's ascent since he worked with me at Fendi in 2006, I am thrilled to see how his innate creativity and disruptive approach have made him so relevant, not just in the world of fashion but in popular culture today. His sensibility towards luxury and savoir-faire will be instrumental in taking Louis Vuitton menswear into the future." Abloh responded to the appointment by saying, "It is an honor for me to accept the position of Men’s Artistic Director for 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." 

It will be a tight turnaround time with his first show scheduled to take place in June during Men’s Fashion Week in Paris. Trust there will be legions of fans in eager anticipation for Abloh's certain habit of subverting tradition with "something" built for the future.