Louis Vuitton and Virgil Abloh
On April 20th 2018, Virgil Abloh, the newly appointed Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, began his first day of work. He documented it through a short Instagram video of the fashion house embarking on its new collection. In gray film, Abloh deconstructs his goals for the new collection, stating “the biggest goal with a first collection is…that people understand the new vocabulary, who we are as this new team.” As the video continues, we see a glimpse of Abloh alongside his team, looking over many blurred images across the floor. He asks, “What’s our signature twist in terms of things that you already have in your closet…?” He then explains that he wants to explore “the lineage of craftsmanship in the trunk.” But as diametric opposites, how would Virgil Abloh’s progressive attitude and Louis Vuitton’s “lineage of craftsmanship” merge?
The answer is simpler than one would think. Louis Vuitton’s “lineage of craftsmanship” and a progressive attitude are actually one and the same. As a small Parisian luggage company in the 1850s, Louis Vuitton championed a seamless trunk design of flat tops and flat bottoms, allowing luggage to be easily stacked; this eased issues of space and water-logging. What seemed like a minor alteration allowed Louis Vuitton to open the largest store for travel in all of Paris.
Trademark patterns ranging from the iconic brown checkers, to Vuitton’s signature monogram, have allowed the company remain a symbol of luxury. In this way, innovation is the life-blood that has allowed Louis Vuitton to thrive for decades.
In fact, Louis Vuitton’s resurgence into the public eye began with its introduction to the clothing industry under the leadership of Marc Jacobs in 2002. Like many other luxury brands, this was largely a reaction to the Harlem counterfeiter Dapper Dan, who took patterns from brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci and transposed them onto glamorous logo-heavy clothing.
Counterfeiting presented to major fashion labels an entirely new opportunity to grab the attention of a new generation, a generation steeped in modernism, hip-hop, and casual wear. Riding off opportunities much like this, each of Louis Vuitton’s Creative Directors has targeted the interests of this nouveau riche community. Marc Jacobs melded contemporary art and high fashion, while Kim Jones was influential in allowing sportswear and casual wear to dominate the male wardrobe. Louis Vuitton continues to tread the line between timeless luxury and fresh relevancy. For example, Louis Vuitton’s F/W 2017 collection saw major success in its collaboration with streetwear titan Supreme.
Now, enter Virgil Abloh, founder of streetwear brand Off-White and close friend of Kanye West. Abloh’s meteoric rise to fame, despite his lack of formal training, shows one thing in particular: a deep understanding of the relationship between the consumer and contemporary culture. Picking up the torch from Kim Jones, Abloh continues Louis Vuitton’s tradition of bridging timeless classics and futurism, particularly via streetwear.
Abloh brings an entirely new, disruptive energy to the historical fashion house, to keep it in the public eye. In a lecture at RISD last year, Abloh said, “This idea of offering an update to a classic thing is post-modern…I see the freedom in [this] and I think that [this] can influence and make more impactful work.” Louis Vuitton’s appointment therefore makes all the sense in the world. In fact, news of the appointment alone had the industry and the internet buzzing. Given his history in streetwear and his goal of defining a new vocabulary that builds upon Louis Vuitton’s historical lineage, Abloh is uniquely positioned to carry on LV’s legacy while also modernizing and adapting to contemporary consumers.