Virgil Abloh Becomes First African American Artistic Director At Louis Vuitton

Ever since Hip-Hop culture glorified the idea of being “paid in full,” Louis Vuitton has become a status symbol of style and success in the community. In the ’90s, Raekwon sported a Louis satchel when he was photographed alongside Ghostface Killah in Supreme tees. Busta Rhymes has donned several suits made with the French designer’s iconic print, including in the “Twerk It” music video. Early in his platinum solo career, Kanye West crowned himself “The Louis Vuitton Don.” Now, one of ‘Ye’s closest associates is making moves to be just that.

Louis Vuitton, a 164-year-old Parisian company, has named its first African American Artistic Director earlier this week. Virgil Abloh will head Men’s division at L.V. “I feel elated,” the 37-year-old first-generation Ghanaian-American told The New York Times. “This opportunity to think through what the next chapter of design and luxury will mean at a brand that represents the pinnacle of luxury was always a goal in my wildest dreams. And to show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start.” He plans to relocate his family to Paris for the position.

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Previously, Abloh had served as a longtime Creative Director for fellow Illinois product, Kanye West. The pair has been collaborators and close friends for nearly 15 years. Additionally, Virgil founded street-wear brand Off-White. He had interned at Fendi for six-months alongside West in 2009. There, both worked under Michael Burke, who is now Chief Executive at L.V. “I paid [Kanye West and Virgil Abloh] $500 a month!” Burke recalled to The Times. “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.” Abloh intends to continue designing and production for Off-White, while taking on his new post.

Previously, Englishman Kim Jones held the position for seven years, before stepping away in January. During Jones’ tenure, he orchestrated an olive-branch collaboration with Supreme, following years of legal turmoil. Jones is now at Christian Dior.

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Notably, Virgil Abloh has no formal education in fashion or design; he studied architecture and civil engineering. His mother, a professional seamstress, taught him sewing. However, he won competitions with Off-White, including the 2015 LVMH Young Designers Prize (the acronym belongs to the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy conglomerate) and took home the British Fashion Awards’ “Urban Luxe” honors. According to the feature, Abloh—who has made political statements in his previous work— is tasked with conjuring the humanity in the brand and fashion world at some very challenging times. Meanwhile, Burke states that the fashion house remains catered to “the new wealthy class,” not aristocrats.

“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,” Virgil told The Times, adding that he is drafting an eight-page brand manual.

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At present, L.V.’s Men’s line is only sold at a third of its 45 stores worldwide. In the coming days, the house plans to expand that by at least 20 stores. LVMH is the largest luxury group on the planet.