INTERNATIONAL - Louis Vuitton hired designer Virgil Abloh as men’s artistic director as parent company LVMH continues to shake up the senior ranks of its luxury fashion business.
In addition to designing his own brand Off-White, a streetwear-infused luxury label that has collaborated on designs for Jimmy Choo and Ikea, the designer is known for his work behind the scenes as creative director for the rapper Kanye West. Abloh, a 37-year-old American, takes over at Louis Vuitton from Kim Jones, whom the company is moving to its Christian Dior Couture brand to revamp its menswear offer.
LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods maker and France’s most valuable company by market capitalization, has been shuffling the leadership of its key fashion properties over the past year. In January, LVMH announced it had hired star designer Hedi Slimane to take over and expand its Celine brand, adding menswear and couture. Other moves include a new chief executive officer at Christian Dior Couture, Pietro Beccari, who is known for his work for the group’s Roman property Fendi.
“His innate creativity and disruptive approach have made him so relevant, not just in the world of fashion but in popular culture today,” Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke said of Abloh in a statement.
LVMH has kept close ties with Abloh since 2006, when the designer and West interned together at Fendi as the rapper was seeking an education in the fashion industry. In 2015, Abloh’s Off-White label was a finalist for the LVMH Prize, a major bursary for young designers. Alexandre Arnault, co-CEO of the Rimowa luggage unit and one of LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault’s five children, last year sat in the front row of Abloh’s runway show during Paris Fashion Week alongside Vuitton’s Burke and Jones.
While Abloh has kept quiet regarding his work for West, he rose to prominence in the fashion industry as a consultant for the rapper, whose design projects have ranged from tour merchandise to his own designer fashion brand, Yeezy.
Analysts estimate Louis Vuitton is LMVH’s top-selling brand, with annual sales of more than 9 billion euros ($11.2 billion), the largest in the luxury industry. LVMH doesn’t report sales for individual brands. The French designer Nicolas Ghesquiere has overseen Louis Vuitton’s women’s collections since 2014.
Much like his predecessor Jones -- who paved the way for a streetwear aesthetic in Louis Vuitton’s menswear with initiatives like a collaboration with the cult skateboarding brand Supreme -- Abloh has a motivated following on social media and his work is documented in obsessive detail on sneaker and streetwear sites.
Block letters, camouflage, and construction-site inspirations like caution tape and white crosswalks have been recurring motifs for Abloh, who has degrees in architecture and engineering.
Sneaker enthusiasts snapped up a series of limited-edition sneakers by Off-White for Nike featuring plastic clips and block-printed laces. A pair of the brand’s plastic-wrapped heels for Jimmy Choo fetches 995 euros.