Following the news of the shocking passing of streetwear behemoth, Virgil Abloh, we look back at one of his many milestones: the time he was announced as Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton menswear in 2018.
(While we are still reeling from the shock of today’s fashion news, the passing of Virgil Abloh after a quiet battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, we look back at the time we played fashion detective to figure out why his trailblazing appointment at Louis Vuitton wasn’t nearly as shocking as it was. In fact, it did seem prophetic, because as we’ve seen coming all along, it would create a major shift in the conversation of high fashion and streetwear. Divisive as it proved to be at times, the profound effect exists, which will forever be etched in the future of fashion as we know it. A version of this story appeared on MEGA Man, March 2018.)
A simple post of a traditional Louis Vuitton chest by Off-White’s main man, Virgil Abloh was enough to set the rest of the dormant menswear fashion-sphere into an eruption of divide and discourse. This meant that the long persistent game of musical chairs continues with the announcement that the long-time Kanye West creative partner was heading to the storied house of Louis Vuitton as its men’s artistic director, following of course the exit of Kim Jones. “It is an honor for me to accept the position of men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton,” the designer said in a statement from 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 is too early to tell, of course. But it appears that this could be a risk with an exciting projected outcome.
While this has generally left the menswear plane in a state of shock, especially since Virgil Abloh traces his origins in streetwear, going back to different points of his career will reveal that this was a move that may have been pre-destined by the fashion gods. Let’s jump back in time, shall we?
From The Streets To The World
Prior to launching Off-White and subsequent collaborations with Nike and Ikea, Virgil Abloh was a protege of the cultural zeitgeist that is Kanye West. A creative director for the rapper and fashion icon, the designer would figure in what is now a foreshadowing of things then. In 2012, Jay-Z and Kanye West released a series called Watch The Throne, which included footage from making the album and the tour.
Dressed in an almost signature black, Virgil Abloh enters in one scene where is filmed talking over the phone. In the background his voice over echoes, “You gotta imagine we’re kids from Chicago. Just hip-hop, urban, so it’s like going to the Gucci store for the first time on Michigan Avenue to be like, look at it and then learn past it. Look at Louis Vuitton and then learn past it and ultimately come for it, like all this shit represents me.”
Six years later, this seemingly simple phone call would ring very true as he not just poised to learn from Louis Vuitton, but steer its menswear department to greater, more current heights.
Prior to prominence on his own accord, Virgil Abloh posted a position as Kanye West’s creative director. The two collaborators would solidify their partnership with the aforementioned Watch The Throne album, which earned the designer a Grammy nomination for his album design work. They would work on several more projects over the years, including an internship at Fendi that would prove to be a factor to the appointment of Abloh to a prominent luxury fashion house.
“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,” expressed Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton in an interview with WWD. “His sensibility toward luxury and savoir-faire will be instrumental in taking Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear into the future.”
The Legacy Of Virgil Abloh
His work for Kanye West has earned him leverage to build his brand, Off-White, which would in effect spawn collaborations with among many, Nike and Champion. This toeing the line would result in a cult status that has seen consistently sold-out highly-anticipated drops. “It’s in-between two things,” he described of his design aesthetic. “If I like high fashion and I like streetwear, Off-White is a reminder to be in the middle. I don’t have to choose between high fashion or streetwear. My brand reminds me that it doesn’t have to fit in a box.”
Much is left to be seen from the first African-American to take on a prominent design role at Louis Vuitton, but what is clear is that this does seem to be a timely, if not perfect fit for the overruling generation. “For the last eight to 10 years we’ve been having this conversation about what’s new, and for me, that has to do with making luxury relatable across generations,” said Abloh. “The first thing I am going to do is define new codes. My muse has always been what people actually wear, and I am really excited to make a luxury version of that.”
True enough, a lot was seen from Virgil Abloh over the course of his tenure at Louis Vuitton, and more expansively, in fashion. From shifting the codes to stirring the sensibilities of what was once long guarded by a self-appointed few, the game of fashion has been inevitable steered into a more prolific and progressive future. “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” he once said. Where we suspended judgment for what was to come then, it is with full confidence that we can say, for all it’s worth, you did your younger self might proud, Mr. Abloh.