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Louis Vuitton hires Virgil Abloh to heat up men’s collection

Louis Vuitton hires Virgil Abloh to heat up men’s collection
Virgil Abloh (Simone Lezzi / WWD)

Adding yet more heat to its men's fashion activities, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has snared red-hot designer Virgil Abloh to lead men's design at Louis Vuitton.

Off-White's founder succeeds Kim Jones in the role and will show his first collection in June during Men's Fashion Week in the French capital, the luxury brand said on Monday.

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"Having followed with great interest Virgil's ascent since he worked with me at Fendi in 2006, I am thrilled to see how his innate creativity and disruptive approach have made him so relevant, not just in the world of fashion but in popular culture today," said Michael Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton.

"His sensibility towards luxury and savoir-faire will be instrumental in taking Louis Vuitton's menswear into the future," he added.

The executive was referring to the period when Abloh was an intern at Fendi alongside Kanye West, in their bid to learn more about the luxury industry. Burke was ceo of Fendi at the time, and Abloh is West's longtime creative director.

"It is an honor for me to accept the position of men's artistic director for Louis Vuitton. I find the heritage and creative integrity of the house are key inspirations and will look to reference them both while drawing parallels to modern times," Abloh said in a statement.

Virgil Abloh signing Nike trainers.
Virgil Abloh signing Nike trainers. (Delphine Achard / WWD)

Earlier this month, Dior Homme named Jones its new artistic director effective April 1, six weeks after he wound up a seven-year stint at Vuitton. The two moves thrust to the forefront two marquee designers that straddle the luxury world and the explosive streetwear scene.

Jones won particular acclaim for a 2017 collaboration between Vuitton and Supreme, while Abloh created some of the most coveted sneakers in recent history with his "Ten" designs for Nike, including an Air Jordan 1 interpretation that topped many year-end rankings. A pair currently commands as much as $2,000 from after-market sellers.

Almost frenetic with his design collaborations, Abloh has teamed with a broad spectrum of brands, from Ikea and Byredo to Jimmy Choo, Warby Parker, Moncler, Umbro and Sunglass Hut.

Alexandre Arnault, co-ceo of German luggage maker Rimowa, also controlled by LVMH, confirmed on Monday its long-rumored tie-up with Off-White would be hitting stores this summer.

Abloh has also been making a push into art with his recent collaborative works with Japan's Takashi Murakami, which include art shown at the Gagosian Gallery in London in February. Murakami, who previously collaborated with Vuitton on a series of handbags, also hosted a solo show by Abloh in Tokyo.

In 2019, Abloh will have a major exhibition of past and current work at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago, Illinois, Vuitton said.

With his clutch of famous friends and 1.6 million followers on Instagram, the designer is sure to bring additional buzz and attention to Vuitton, which has enjoyed steady growth in recent years as Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director of women's collections, brought a more youthful, modernist elan to its fashions, leather goods and communications.

In an interview last year at ComplexCon, Abloh mused on the philosophy behind his brand, Off-White.

"I can never forget my design premise. It's in-between two things. So if I like high fashion and I like streetwear, Off-White is a reminder to be in the middle. I don't have to choose between high fashion or streetwear. My brand reminds me that it doesn't have to fit in a box. It can just be in a gray area," he said.

Abloh is also an in-demand DJ, spinning this past weekend at Schimanski in Brooklyn, two days after playing a set in Miami Beach alongside Pete Tong and The Martinez Brothers.

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Virgil Abloh at the GQ cocktail party in Milan.
Virgil Abloh at the GQ cocktail party in Milan. (Giovanni Giannoni/ WWD / REX / Shutterstock)

Launched online in late 2013, Off-White held its first showroom presentation in Paris the following January with designs that merged influences ranging from Bauhaus to sports apparel and Caravaggio. It established the brand signifier: thick diagonal stripes that have become a byword for insider cool. Eighteen months later, Abloh expanded into women's wear and staged his first runway show.

The brand made it onto the shortlist of the 2015 edition of the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, crystallizing the advent of streetwear as a credible challenger to the luxury status quo, and cementing close ties to the French luxury group. Abloh becomes the first finalist of the prize to snag a major design post within the group.

Trained as a civil engineer and architect, he rose to prominence as a DJ, cofounder of concept store RSVP Gallery in his hometown of Chicago, and creative director for West. He made his fashion debut in 2012 with the launch of Pyrex Vision, a short-lived label that spawned a following among streetwear aficionados.

Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh (WWD)

"Back then, there was no ambition to be a fashion designer. I think my original ambition was to be an artist," Abloh said in a 2016 interview. "I'd worked in a collaborative space, never had creative control to the final end, so with Pyrex Vision, the idea was to make a film. And in order to make the film, I needed to make these clothes."

Off-White won the Urban Luxe award at the British Fashion Awards last December, and Abloh was named International Designer of the Year at last year's GQ Men of the Year Awards.

His rise to prominence coincided with peers such as Demna Gvasalia of Vetements, Shayne Oliver and Gosha Rubchinskiy — a group linked by their integration of web culture, art, street fashion and luxury codes.

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"You know my style of clothing is basically a discourse between me and the kids. That's what the premise of the brand is," he told WWD in 2016. "We're talking straight to the market. But I believe in the romantic interchange between intellectuals about fashion."

Off-White belongs to New Guards Group, the Milan-based company that produces and distributes Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Palm Angels, Unravel and United Standard.

LVMH is putting major muscle behind men's wear, having lured Hedi Slimane back to the group to take over Céline and extend that 73-year-old brand into men's wear for the first time. His first show is expected during Paris Fashion Week in the fall. (Slimane made a name for himself at Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche in the late Nineties before joining Dior to conceive Dior Homme. He subsequently returned to YSL, rechristening it Saint Laurent, for a four-year stint that ended in April 2016.)

LVMH has also been investing heavily in Berluti, now under the design leadership of Haider Ackermann, and Loro Piana, embarking on a growth phase under a new chief executive officer.

At Dior Homme, Jones succeeds and LVMH said Kris Van Assche, primarily a men's designer, would take up a new assignment within the group.

Dior, Vuitton and Kenzo are among LVMH brands that continue to stage shows during men's fashion week, while rival group Kering has gone the coed route with most of its banners, including Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta.

Before Jones, Dutch designer Paul Helbers headed Vuitton men's wear for five years.

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