Louis Vuitton's Virgil Abloh part of diverse face of fashion

Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh

PARIS • On the afternoon before Virgil Abloh recently debuted his menswear collection for Louis Vuitton, its headquarters on the Right Bank in Paris was not a model of calm.

Deliverymen hauled in flower arrangements for the designer. Assistants from a 35-member menswear team did frenzied, last-minute fittings on a model.

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami - one of a laundry list of global talent whom Abloh counts among his collaborators - drifted through the space, while young American influencer Luka Sabbat darted around.

Ian Connor, whose self-assurance may out-scale even his million-strong Instagram following, scrolled through his phone feed, barely bothering to notice that supermodel Naomi Campbell had wandered in.

"This is the culmination of a lifetime of work," said Abloh, who, at 37, effectively pinnacled the luxury-goods Everest with his appointment in March as men's artistic director of Louis Vuitton.

"Look around this room," added the designer - the child of Ghanaian immigrants and a suburban kid raised outside Chicago.

"There are people around this room who look like me. You never saw that before in fashion. The people have changed and so fashion had to."

By people, Abloh meant consumers, and the change he has ushered in represents fundamental shifts not only in who buys things, but also in who gets to tell the story of fashion.

If his hiring proves anything, it is that the old business models have lost their validity.

Consider the case of Connor, the 25-year-old whose social media tentacles reach millions on Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram.

"Even if I didn't have a home, I was sleeping on the floor, I always made sure I had my clothes," he once said.

Unquestionably, along with his skill at upending fashion's exclusionary tropes, it was Abloh's ability to connect to people like Connor and the global digital tribes that led Louis Vuitton to hire him.

"Fashion has to speak to a generation of people who look like me," he said.

His Vuitton show featured ethnically diverse models who would have been inconceivable on a Paris runway as recently as five years ago.

There are vast new millennial markets to exploit in China (400 million) and India (385 million), with Asia representing 19 per cent of the global generational cohort, according to Pew Research Centre.

The goal is getting to them and the odds are on the affable, easygoing Abloh knowing how.

Titling the Vuitton show We Are The World, a reference to the 1985 charity single in support of Ethiopian famine relief, he included maps detailing the global origins of each member of the cast with his show notes.

On a radiantly sunny afternoon, he quickly put to rest any doubts about his design abilities - "People think I'm just that guy who puts a stripe on a hoodie," he had said earlier - with a demonstration of his design conviction, opening with a suave double-breasted suit worn over double-pleated trousers, when most menswear labels are in desperate flight from tailored clothes.

This being Vuitton, it was paired with matte white crocodile sneakers and a tote.

Evidently, he pilots his own course. Speaking to the New York Times last year in Milan, he expressed what you might call a personal credo, one applicable to anyone determined to reach a goal.

"I never mind when people turn me down because I immediately start looking for solutions," said Abloh, who appears to have attained his at Vuitton.

"I always love that first no."

And now the runways are cleared for his visions to take off.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline 'Louis Vuitton's Virgil Abloh part of diverse face of fashion'. Print Edition | Subscribe