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Salute to Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton's new menswear director

PARIS — Virgil Abloh, the founder of the haute street wear label Off-White and a longtime creative director for Kanye West, will be the next artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, one of the oldest and most powerful European houses in the luxury business. He will be one of the few black designers at the top of a French heritage house. Olivier Rousteing is the creative director of Balmain, and Ozwald Boateng, from Britain, was the designer for Givenchy menswear from 2003 to 2007. “I am elated,” Abloh said, adding that he planned to relocate his family to Paris to take the job at the world’s largest luxury group. “This opportunity to think through what the next chapter of design and luxury will mean at a brand that represents the pinnacle of luxury was always a goal in my wildest dreams. And to show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start.” The appointment, widely rumored in recent months, is part of a shake-up on the menswear side of LVMH, which began in January with the departure of Kim Jones. Abloh’s appointment is also a reflection of the increasing consumer-driven intermingling of the luxury and streetwear sectors. “Virgil is incredibly good at creating bridges between the classic and the zeitgeist of the moment,” said Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton. The two men first met about 12 years ago when Abloh spent six months interning at Fendi with Kanye West, where Burke was then the chief executive. “I paid them $500 a month!” Burke said. “I was really impressed with how they brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi. I have been following his career ever since.” Abloh, 37, a first-generation Ghanaian-American raised in Illinois, is widely considered one of fashion’s consummate purveyors of cool; a master of using irony, reference and the self-aware wink (plus celebrity, music, digital and hype), to re-contextualize the familiar and give it an aura of cultural currency. A champion of the cross-branded collaboration, Abloh worked with names as varied as Nike, Jimmy Choo, Moncler and, with an upcoming project, Ikea. Most recently, he teamed up with Takashi Murakami, a frequent Vuitton collaborator, for a show at the Gagosian Gallery in London. “In a way, all of my output has been to make a compelling case for me to take on a role such as this,” Abloh said. “I think of it as kind of the ultimate collaboration.” It also presumably made a compelling case that Abloh could be the man to make Louis Vuitton menswear more relevant — and more visible — to the millennial generation. He will build on the foundation laid by Jones, who also gave classic menswear and Vuitton’s history as a luggage expert an urban edge, and recently engineered a sellout collaboration with Supreme, another street-wear success story. “For the last eight to 10 years we’ve been having this conversation about what’s new, and for me, that has to do with making luxury relatable across generations,” Abloh said, adding that he had been putting together an eight-page “brand manual” defining the new ethos of his Vuitton. “The first thing I am going to do is define new codes. My muse has always been what people actually wear, and I am really excited Mr. Abloh will continue to run Off-White — “it is for the 17-year-old version of myself, whereas Vuitton is for the 37-year-old I am today,” he said — and to work with Kanye West. But he said he would cut back on his other activities, including moonlighting as a D.J. He will show his first collection for Louis Vuitton during Paris Men’s Fashion Week in June.

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