Menswear designers do not usually generate as many headlines as womenswear designers do (after all, globally, womenswear is worth US$625 billion, as compared to menswear’s US$408 billion) – but you wouldn’t have known that by the wealth of features that followed the appointment of Virgil Abloh as Louis Vuitton’s latest menswear artistic director. In its headline, one English newspaper plainly posed the question that was likely on the minds of those whose tastes in fashion run towards the mainstream: “Who is Virgil Abloh?”
The short answer: The Ghanaian-American designer – who replaces Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton – is best known for being the creative director for hip-hop star Kanye West and the founder of hot high-fashion streetwear label Off-White. A social-media heavyweight with 1.9 million followers on Instagram, Abloh has also had several sellout collaborations with brands such as Nike and Moncler. And now, he is the latest example of how fashion brands not traditionally known for being edgy are hiring creative chiefs with a reputation for being just that.
Other recent surprise hires in the fashion industry include Riccardo Tisci, the former Givenchy creative director who will now take his sensual-goth aesthetic to the British heritage house of Burberry; and Hedi Slimane, former purveyor of rock-and-roll chic at Dior Homme and Saint Laurent, who now oversees design at Celine, a brand known for its cerebral womenswear. With disruption the norm today, quirky tradition and quiet charm must – for now at least – make space for sex, streetwear and social-media savvy.