Virgil takes job at Louis Vuitton
You’ve heard it, we’ve heard it, and your clueless relatives have probably heard it by now as well. Virgil Abloh, creator of Off-White, has officially become the new artistic director for menswear at Louis Vuitton. There have been plenty of changes in directorial positions in the industry recently (see: Burberry, Celine) but out of them all, this is the move that has brought mass scrutiny from every facet of the industry; consumers, fanatics, and critics all have questions, all of them have doubts. It’s easy for us (and especially me) as mere spectators to be overly critical for a lot of reasons, and sometimes we dig ourselves into a pit of cynicism that hides our view of reality, but perhaps this time it’s justified.
A New Direction
LV are a luxury brand, they represent the image of what it means to be high-end in today's modern world, so for them to bring in the creator of such a “hype” brand to take over the menswear department is a bold move. It leads us to think about whether a completely new direction is going to be taken, and if so, how is the market going to shift with it?
When the (outright revolting) LV x Supreme collaboration dropped, a shift began in the company. Instantly a success, it became a testament to an emerging idea of melding together high-fashion with streetwear, something that I’m not so certain of. Abloh has seemingly been ushered in capitalise on this success, bringing with him his following of hypebeasts to guarantee anything he launches to be a success. To me, this feels like a short term strategy for a brand that has been around for a long time; Bring in a young, popular designer to shake things up, sell out collections based on that fact alone, profit. It’s obviously not as simple as that, but you get the gist. A strategy like this initially appears dangerous, but in the current climate is far from it. You would assume that if the designs are bad, people will eventually stop buying them when the novelty wears out, but the reality is that as long as people are buying Off-White, people will buy whatever Virgil lays out for LV.
What does this mean for the market? It depends on how much deviation Virgil introduces, but to a certain extent, a younger audience is a probable target for the brand rather than an older generation. By targeting one however, does he alienate the other? Not much can be said about this really, but will the luxury aspect of the brand be in danger if it becomes synonymous with streetwear? Only time will tell.
It’s easy to just pin it all on money/publicity, and I think it would be silly to discount these factors, but the main reason is the shift of high fashion towards the millenial / Gen Z markets. Appointing Virgil, like it or not, was a smart move with regards to securing someone who has no problem targeting and selling to these audiences. Infamous for his rapid rise to success and his connections with hugely influential figures (i.e Kanye), he’s the perfect candidate to use for the experimentation and promotion of this emerging trend. It’ll be interesting to see if other major luxury brands respond, but the the time being LV will have a distinct advantage.
What will it look like?
Probably the biggest question on everyone’s minds is what he has in store. Taking into account why he was appointed, I think it’ safe to assume that there will be some distinctive feature or embellishment to let us know what he intends to do moving forward as well as the changes that will come to LV’s image. I can’t stress enough how vital it is, because it’s with the first release that we’ll be able to gauge if the brand’s identity will grow into something magnificent and new, or if it will be beaten into a trendy, lucrative outline. His first release needs to be something special if it’s to indicate any sort of longevity, but at the same time a statement too bold may alienate the very people that he so needs to impress.
It’s unlikely that he’ll try to create something entirely new, after all, he’s not known for designing so much as he is for repurposing (see: Raf Simons). He also made a statement to the New York Times saying he wants to utilise the history of the brand, but to be honest, there isn’t really much for him to draw from. By saying he plans to reference the history of LV, I can’t help but imagine he may touch on the musings of Kim Jones (yes, he just left), which, due to how recently he departed the brand, would indicate some degree of uncertainty in Abloh.
At What Cost?
I’m not optimistic about Abloh’s place at LV. I acknowledge that from some perspectives, the appointment appears logical, clever even. Of course sales are going to be higher now that the brand is exposed to a larger audience of younger people, and yes, it’s smart to make a move on the growing market before your competitors do; but these things come at a cost. Is it worth losing the luxury image, older clientele, and (potentially) the respect and admiration of other designers, critics, and fashion aficionados?
Words Mitchell Goudie