Last week, Louis Vuitton announced Virgil Abloh, the founder of Off-White and creative partner of Kanye West, as the new artistic director of menswear following the departure of Kim Jones earlier this year. Although Abloh is best known for his work in the luxury streetwear scene, the French fashion house’s decision is not surprising.
Given Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Supreme last year and the blurring of streetwear and luxury fashion by brands like Balenciaga, Gucci and Givenchy, it seems natural for Louis Vuitton to join the bandwagon in order to stay relevant in the fashion scene.
With streetwear brands like Supreme, Bathing Ape and Palace gaining more popularity among Millennials and Gen Z’ers, luxury brands are adapting their designs to attract more buyers.
“In order to protect their place, luxury brands have to identify with the customer, and they have to hire the right designers who can tap into what that customer today wants,” Yu-ming Wu, founder of Sneaker News, said, according to Glossy.
Wu reflected on the turns other high-fashion brands have made towards streetwear.
“Gucci did it. Yves Saint Laurent did it. Givenchy did it. These designers — Alessandro Michele, Hedi Slimane, Riccardo Tisci, Demna, Virgil — they’re all turning the definition of luxury on its head,” Wu said.
According to the Business of Fashion, two of the hottest luxury brands in 2017 were Balenciaga and Gucci. Many would argue that with runway looks that often incorporate T-shirts, sneakers and hoodies, these two luxury brands are popular due to the fusion of streetwear in their designs.
Although luxury streetwear has hefty price points, such as $1040 for a Vetements hoodie, they are in high demand. People have to camp outside stores and put their names down on long waiting lists for some pieces. The unlucky sometimes turn to the resell market, where they have to pay an even higher price for the already expensive items.
It may seem silly that people are spending astronomical amounts of money and effort to get hold of clothing items that they could easily buy for a fraction of the price. However, luxury streetwear customers aren’t buying pieces only for the high-quality garment and craftsmanship; they are also buying their way into the subculture.
It is the status that comes with wearing these incredibly sought after and expensive streetwear pieces that justifies the price. This status grew in popularity in 2017 and continues to grow today.
In an interview with the New York Times, Michael Burke, chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, described Louis Vuitton’s history as a fashion house.
“Louis Vuitton was not a couture house. From the mid-19th century to the 1920s and beyond it always sought to cater to the new wealthy class, not the old aristocrats,” he said.
With the help of Abloh, Louis Vuitton can hopefully tap into the luxury streetwear scene and become more popular among younger generations.
In the midst of the excitement surrounding Abloh’s appointment, there is also criticism.
In an interview with Highsnobiety, Eugene Rabkin, editor-in-chief and founder of StyleZeitgeist, criticized what he perceives to be Abloh’s formulaic style, saying that his hiring is “a disservice to fashion at large, and will only contribute to the dismal state of contemporary fashion.”
Rabkin’s comment displays his belief that Louis Vuitton is doing what is best for the company’s finances at the expense of contemporary fashion.
However, many people, including Will Welch, the editor-in-chief of GQ Style, who once said that Abloh “single-handedly created a new aspirational paradigm: The high-flying creative multi-hyphenate,” in highsnobiety, won’t be sharing the same disappointment.
Furthermore, Louis Vuitton’s decision to hire Abloh as its first black artistic director is opening the fashion industry to more people of color. This is a major step towards helping the industry become more diverse, as Louis Vuitton is one of the most influential fashion brands in the world.
Abloh’s vision for the brand is inspiring.
“Product is only one part of the luxury narrative,” Abloh said in a phone interview with the New York Times. “I want to use Louis Vuitton’s history with travel to really look at different cultures around the world to help make all our humanity visible. When creativity melds together with global issues, I believe you can bring the world together. Fashion on this level can really open eyes.”
Regardless of the criticism, Abloh’s role as the new creative director for Louis Vuitton menswear is generating much buzz in the fashion community. There is much anticipation for the changes Abloh is going to bring to Louis Vuitton and whether he will be able to help the iconic fashion house reign over the luxury streetwear scene.