"Listen to the kids, bro"
Kanye West, the musical genius and trendsetting designer behind the famous Yeezy shoes and clothing line, has insisted multiple times that people should pay more attention to what “the kids”, have to say. When LVMH, the luxury conglomerate that owns Louis Vuitton, appointed Virgil Abloh as creative director for LV’s menswear line, it seemed to do exactly that; the company is giving the youth a voice. Virgil grew up in the Chicago suburbs which later led him to connect with Kanye, who helped him kick-start his career in the creative scene. Now, he is known as the founder of Off-White, a high end, streetwear brand ranked 3rd in Lyst’s Business of Fashion Hottest Brands of 2017 and has had huge commercial success mostly amongst young people. The newly appointed designer makes clothes, shoes, DJ’s at nightclubs all over the world and collaborates with artists to set up installations in galleries across the world showing his creative versatility.
Virgil’s vision is to elevate the t-shirt, hoodie and other basic pieces alike to a “high fashion” standard. This vision of his has already had a huge influence on the luxury market in the past couple of years. Brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and Vetements have found massive success in selling logo t-shirts at a $300 price point. Such graphic t-shirts were coined by Stüssy and Bape in the 90’s and have traditionally been sold at a much lower price point. The targeted consumer of these brands has shifted from traditionally rich, older folks to young people whose interest in fashion stemmed from streetwear brands such as Supreme, the streetwear and hype giant.
When Kim Jones, Virgil Abloh’s predecessor at Louis Vuitton, announced that the brand would collaborate with Supreme, the entire world seemed to be paying attention. The collaboration marked the first time that the merge between streetwear and high fashion became tangible and obvious. With thousands of people lining-up at the stores, the collection was an immediate sellout and has already made a deep mark on the history of fashion. The customers were people whose ages range from 12 to 30, which is an interesting shift from the usual high-fashion customer and how they purchase items - traditionally buying a Louis Vuitton bag will come with excellent customer service and a glass of champagne, not three nights of camping out in front of the store.
Although many fashion insiders agree that Virgil’s designs are often lazy or heavily “inspired” by those of Raf Simons or other designers, everyone in the industry agrees that the appointment is purely commercial and will surely make Gucci and Balenciaga -who currently have the high-end, wearable fashion sector of the market under control- step their game up as they will have some very serious competition. This shift from purely creative and artistic direction to more commercial appointments shows how high-fashion is adapting to a fast-paced, social-media driven world that is more infatuated by logos and graphics rather than silhouettes and garment construction.
Virgil has stated that Off-White “is for the 17-year-old version of myself, whereas Vuitton is for the 37-year-old I am today”. Nobody knows what Virgil’s first collection at LV will look like but it is a fact that LVMH was looking to appeal to the youth by appointing one of their heroes. For the first time Louis Vuitton’s menswear will be piloted by an African American, and by someone who caters, appeals and relates to the youth heavily. He is part of the new wave of designers who connect with the youth and understand the era of social media; his peers include Demna Gvasalia, Gosha Rubchinskiy, and Heron Preston amongst others.
The young generation is often criticized for being disengaged and uninvolved; however, we are shifting high fashion, from what they design even to what standards of diversity and ethics they follow. The timing of the appointment coincided with the youth organized “March for our Lives”, further showing the impact of this generation in a plethora of fields, even spearheading a paradigm shift in one of the largest industries in the world: fashion.
Words By Albert Tres