“This is me having a conversation with luxury” –Virgil Abloh
A boy from South Side Chicago, born in Rockford, Illinois to Ghanaian immigrant parents, Virgil Abloh has gone on to become one of the most prominent names in fashion today.
After obtaining his Bachelor Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2001, Virgil went on to study Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. After working for an Architectural firm for two years, Abloh shifted his focus to fashion. In 2009, he interned alongside Kanye West at Fendi where the two would begin a long collaborative relationship. In the same year, he founded RSVP Gallery, an art gallery and menswear boutique in Chicago, alongside Don C. A year later, he joined Kanye West’s creative agency, DONDA, as Creative Director, overseeing various projects including stage shows and concert merchandise.
In 2012, Abloh launched his first fashion brand, Pyrex Vision, which screen printed logos onto Champion t-shirts and dead stock Ralph Lauren rugby shirts. He subsequently shut the business down a year later since his intention was to explore an artistic experiment and not to run a commercial enterprise. He then went on to launch his luxury men’s and women’s streetwear label Off-White in 2013. The Milan-based brand was picked up by stockists like Barneys and Colette, and worn by the likes of A$AP Rocky, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner. Off-White and Virgil Ablih became famous for the screen printed logos he started off with at Pyrex; a continuous theme in Abloh’s design philosophy.
His creative journey came full circle on Thursday, 22 June 2018, a day many will remember as a fresh page being written in the book of fashion history. On March 25 2018, Virgil Abloh was appointed as the new Creative Director for Louis Vuitton Men; the first black man at the helm of a luxury brand within the LVMH stable taking over from Kim Jones who now heads up Christian Dior Homme.
Virgil Abloh showcased his debut collection at the Domaine du Palais Royal in Paris, on a sunny Thursday afternoon down a rainbow runway that encompassed the theme of his show “We Are the World”. The collection signaled the dawn of the new era. It was neither pure streetwear nor straight forward luxury. It sat in between; transmuting greatly to his identity as a designer.
“Is luxury relative or are we on the journey to redefining it?”
When Virgil Abloh launched Off-White in 2013, his main aim was to revolutionize high fashion. The original intention of streetwear was to create clothing that spoke to an audience of people who appreciated both fashion and luxury, but so often felt like they were left out of the conversation. The current climate of Men’s fashion is seeing a new tide turning that is moving away from the more uptight and upright style of men’s clothing and tailoring; moving more into hip tailoring.
A fashion house evolves with each Creative Director. Louis Vuitton Women is not the same Louis Vuitton under Nicolas Ghesquière as it was under Marc Jacobs. The appointment of a new Creative Director opens up a new chapter in that particular house. Louis Vuitton being an accessories house saw Virgil analyzing the fine art of twisting a classic accessory just enough to make it coolly desirable. It is about taking something that has already been there and embedded in the DNA of the brand and simply adjusting it to fit the personal aesthetic of the brain at the helm of the brand.
Virgil Abloh’s debut collection at Louis Vuitton painted a candid illustration of how Virgil’s streetwear inclinations proved to mesh well with Louis Vuitton’s timeless aesthetic. Virgil, since his days at Pyrex and the beginning of Off-White, wanted to redefine what luxury and streetwear are and he has done that with this collection. He allowed for his natural instincts to take flight and blossom into the forms that inspire him as a creator.
With every season change, there is trial and error that comes with mapping out new territory. A lot of that comes with experimentation that attempts to bridge the gap between streetwear and luxury, casual and formal, accessories and fashion. This has been evident in both Louis Vuitton’s Men 2019 collection as well as the Dior Homme Men 2019 collection which was the debut of Kim Jones who, until January of 2018, was heading up Louis Vuitton.
The more casual silhouette that was sent down the runway this past week may not be particularly new to men’s wear at large, but it is certainly refreshing for both Abloh and Jones and their respective houses as designers and creatives that come from a streetwear and sport design background. Both Creative Directors have tailored straightforward ready-to-wear garments that felt modern, stoic and linear.
“I would love to define the title of artistic director for a new and different era” – Virgil Abloh
So to answer the question, we are indeed on a journey towards redefining luxury. Virgil Abloh’s debut collection for Louis Vuitton meshed the meeting of the runway and the streets. It will change the perception of what the fashion industry is and can be. It is introducing the ethos of streetwear into the sophistication of luxury whilst molding it into very relaxed, casual and chic clothing. This collection is a trophy moment for both Abloh and Louis Vuitton, as the new era of latter-day luxury fashion is being ushered in.