Virgil Abloh, the founder of streetwear brand Off-White and Kanye West’s creative director, has been named the new menswear designer for French fashion label Louis Vuitton.
“I feel elated,” the 37-year-old told The New York Times, saying the opportunity was “always a goal in my wildest dreams”.
The news site says Abloh is one of the few black designers at the helm of a major French fashion house.
Others include Olivier Rousteing – the creative director at Balmain, and British designer Ozwald Boateng who led Givenchy men’s wear from 2003 to 2007.
Abloh will present his first menswear collection for Louis Vuitton in June at Paris Fashion Week.
Louis Vuitton chief executive Michael Burke praised the designer’s “sensibility towards luxury and savoir-faire” adding he would be “instrumental in taking Louis Vuitton’s menswear into the future”.
The appointment, widely rumored in recent months, is part of a shake-up on the men’s wear side of LVMH, which began in January with the departure of Kim Jones, Mr. Abloh’s predecessor at Louis Vuitton. Last week, it was announced that Mr. Jones would become the men’s wear designer at LVMH stablemate Christian Dior, replacing Kris van Assche.
Mr. Abloh’s appointment is also a reflection of the increasing consumer-driven intermingling of the luxury and street wear sectors, which helped boost global sales of luxury personal goods by 5 percent last year to an estimated 263 billion euros (about $325 billion in today’s dollars), according to a recent study by the global consulting firm Bain & Company. And it is an acknowledgment on the part of the luxury industry that it must respond to contemporary culture in new ways.
“Virgil is incredibly good at creating bridges between the classic and the zeitgeist of the moment,” said Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton. The two men first met about 12 years ago when Mr. Abloh spent six months interning at Fendi with Kanye West, where Mr. Burke was then the chief executive.
“I paid them $500 a month!” Mr. Burke said. “I was really impressed with how they brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi. I have been following his career ever since.”
Mr. Abloh, 37, a first-generation Ghanaian-American raised in Illinois, is widely considered one of fashion’s consummate purveyors of cool; a master of using irony, reference and the self-aware wink (plus celebrity, music, digital and hype), to recontextualize the familiar and give it an aura of cultural currency.
Despite having no formal fashion education (his mother was a seamstress and taught him her trade; he studied architecture and civil engineering), Mr. Abloh founded Off-White — a reference to his belief that old barriers are breaking down — in 2013, almost a decade after he first meet Mr. West and became his creative partner. In 2015, Off-White was a finalist for the LVMH Young Designers Prize. (Mr. Abloh will be the first LVMH finalist to take on a major design role in an LVMH brand.)
Off-White currently has 3.1 million Instagram followers (Mr. Abloh alone has 1.6 million), and Mr. Abloh received the Urban Luxe award at the British Fashion Awards last year. During the just-past women’s wear season, there was almost a riot in the Rue Cambon outside the Off-White show as fans crowded to get in.
A champion of the cross-branded collaboration, Mr. Abloh has worked with names as varied as Nike, Jimmy Choo, Moncler and, with an upcoming project, Ikea. Most recently, he teamed up with Takashi Murakami, a frequent Vuitton collaborator, for a show at the Gagosian Gallery in London.