How Has Virgil Abloh Influenced Fashion?
As LVMH’s first African American figurehead and recently appointed Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh is using his platform to change the luxury Fashion industry. He is the fashion industry’s rising star and name on everyone’s lips - he DJs, he designs and he is Kanye West’s best friend. Virgil Abloh not only oozes cool, but represents a changing culture, diversity and the shifting genres within fashion in 2019.
Abloh first caught the world’s attention with his streetwear brand Off-White, founded in 2012. After Off-White’s womenswear debut at Paris Fashion Week in 2014, the brand became a LVMH Prize finalist allowing for access to the top designers, buyers and well-established connections to the high-fashion industry. As a streetwear focused brand, it’s well-known for their screen-printed sweatshirts and tees, industrial themed belts, “quoted items” and buzzy shoe collaborations. The signature diagonal lines and white arrows alongside industrial packaging and a signature zip tie are key design themes throughout Off-White collections. These collections are adorned by the rich club kids of London, Milan, Paris and New York, hypebeasts, celebrities and social media stars alike.
Abloh benefits from the trends of the dominating hip-hop culture and music scene and the Instagram-driven craze of logo-mania. The infamous diagonal striped hoodie now represents the “hype” and “luxury” combination that Off-White does so well. Off-white has managed to capture a young audience while still keeping luxury prices and quality. According to Bain & Co, generation Z and millennials represent approximately 55% of the 2025 market and will contribute to 130% of market growth over the period. Luxury streetwear has also helped to boost global sales of luxury goods by 5% last year to an estimated EUR 263 Billion. These numbers help to show a generational shift in luxury consumption where traditional brands are seeing the need to capture young consumers as their purchasing power increases. Through capsule collections and strategic creative talent appointments, luxury brands are starting to inject a dose of youth culture to their heritage.
In 2018, Virgil Abloh was named the artistic director of Louis Vuitton, but also remains at Off-white. As written by Austin Collins in Vanity Fair, “Off-White’s signature diagonal stripes and ironic quotation marks are, for hypebeasts and the star-obsessed, as coded and class-aware as interlocking L.V. monograms are to another generation”. This is a huge step for the brand as Louis Vuitton is one of the most profitable brands under the LVMH umbrella and is estimated to account for 50% of the conglomerate’s total profitability.
As Abloh said himself, “To me, it’s hope. [Hope that] the world will evolve into a more diverse and open-minded place. We are seeing a company with a long history of doing things a certain way trying new things”. Abloh, himself represents the anti-establishment though his youth, as a child of Ghanaian immigrants, his commitment to streetwear as luxury, low-key energy, millions of Instagram followers and celebrity social circle. He is essentially the epitome of cool, hype and influence and represents the shift of the dial in the world of high-fashion.
His appointment, as creative director, was the topic on everone’s radar as his streetwear approach to design is in stark contrast to the 165 year old luxury luggage brand. With the rise of streetwear super brands like Supreme and Off-white, do you think Louis Vuitton is on to something? Well-established powerhouses like Balenciaga even appointed Demna Gvasalia from streetwear brand Vetements, as Creative Director in 2015.
Abloh follows in the footprints of design superstars Kim Jones, Marc Jacobs and Nicolas Ghesquière as creative director of LV, of whom have had design degrees from Parsons and Central Saint Martins. Abloh's background however, lies in civil engineering and architecture. That being said, Abloh has faced a lot of criticism for his design style, but argues these criticisms are based in outdated notions. Abloh told Vogue,
"That way of designing—to develop everything from zero—comes from a different time. For me, design is about whatever I find is worthy to tell a story about. I don’t believe that culture benefits from the idea that this line on a piece of paper has never been drawn in this exact way ever before. My goal is to highlight things—that’s why I collaborate a lot, that’s why I reference a lot, and that’s what makes my body of work what it is."
He continues on to say, "I think that’s the success of Off-White. I haven’t made a distinction between the design world and the real world—I’ve just immersed myself in both. And because I came from outside the fashion industry, I don’t have the luxury of creating collections in a traditional way."
In a new era, Virgil Abloh’s first collection for Louis Vuitton was presented at Paris Fashion week for SS19, where the crowd included stars like Kim Kardashion, Kanye West, Rihanna and Naomi Campbell. The first to strut down the runway was rapper, Kid Cudi, followed by other celebrities like Playboi Carti, Steve Lacy, Theophilus London, Dev Hynes, A$AP Nast, Octavian, painter Lucien Smith, artist Blondey McCoy, and even pro skater Lucien Clarke. Not only did Abloh use celebrities as models, but that the first 17 models down the runway were black. In an era where the fashion industry still struggles to cast only a small handful of models of color in each show, this was a strong statement, as it was made by one of the most influential brands in the industry.
Abloh said, “I now have a platform to change the industry with this show. So I should do that. It’s no secret: we’re designers, so we can start a trend, we can highlight issues, we can make a lot of people focus on something or we can cause a lot of people to focus on ourselves. I’m not interested in [the latter]. I’m interested in using my platform as one of a very small group of African-American males to design a house, to sort of show people in a poetic way. The [models are] artists first, in my mind; they’re not black.”
Virgil Abloh’s story showcases the global shift in the luxury fashion industry. As the industry is usually dominated by an older demographic who prefer the traditional, classic or avant-garde, Abloh is pushing forward and speaking for a new generation. Virgil Abloh represents a changing culture, diversity and the shifting genres of fashion.
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