Louis Vuitton has just made streetwear designer Virgil Abloh the artistic director of menswear, making Abloh one of the few black executives at the helm of a European heritage luxury brand. And by bringing on a designer whose work has centered on streetwear and its intersection with hip-hop and rap culture, Louis Vuitton seems to be deliberately expanding its definition of luxury fashion.
Abloh grew up in Illinois, the son of Ghanian immigrants. He’s been a key figure in the music world, serving as the art director for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 album Watch the Throne, for which he was nominated for a Grammy. Abloh ended up becoming West’s creative director. In 2013, he launched his own label, Off-White, an elevated streetwear brand that tends toward minimalistic pieces.
Abloh studied architecture and civil engineering, and learned how to fabricate garments from his mother, a seamstress. And despite his lack of formal fashion training, Abloh has managed to make his mark in the world of European luxury. In 2015, he was a finalist for the LVMH (Louis Vuitton’s parent company) Young Designers Prize, and back in 2006, he interned at Fendi along with West.
Over the last two years, Gucci has engineered a massive turnaround, turning itself from a dusty Italian luxury brand into one of the most popular brands among millennials, leading to massive increases in revenue. This change is partly due to the presence of Alessandro Michele, the brand’s new creative director, who has had a much younger, more inclusive, and streetwear-inspired approach to fashion than his predecessors. Louis Vuitton may very well be trying to create a similar magic at the company by bringing on Abloh.