Virgil Abloh, the Fashion Outsider-Turned-Insider

He earned the praise of Kanye West, founded Off-White, collaborated with countless industry staples, yet Virgil Abloh is still regarded as an “outsider” or “newcomer” to the fashion scene. Now, he’s set to helm the menswear of one of the most historic labels in the business.

While no one in the fashionverse seemed too fazed by the announcement of Kim Jones leaving Louis Vuitton mens, the announcement of his replacement earlier this week has left the industry polarized. Everything Virgil Abloh does and creates is always met with media buzz, excitement, and just overall discussion, whether its creating a background noise-inspired fragrance or another brand collab. Though some might argue that all Abloh brings to the table is marketing hype rather than design value, it should be noted that he brings both.

The 37-year-old Chicago native might not fit the traditional view of what a fashion designer’s training should be, but that doesn’t make him an outsider to this industry. Previous generations of designers had remarkable stories of upbringing; the Jean-Paul Gaultier generation were taught to sew by a grandmother before beginning to shock and shake the system. The turn-of-the century generation, defined by McQueen and Galliano, had industry training and educations from renowned universities like Central Saint Martins before unleashing extremely creative works of clothing art onto an audience that was just about ready for it.

Those generations have passed. We’re living in the age of internet, where anyone can become famous through going viral. Consumers today get hyped and passionate over what they like, and it doesn’t take much to excite them. We’ve passed postmodernism; we’ve reached an age where simplicity and minimalism reign. If Virgil Abloh realized this before selling printed t-shirts for hundreds of dollars, that doesn’t make him an imposter to the fashion industry. Conversely, it shows that he knows his market.

Anyway, Abloh did have fashion training prior to launching Pyrex Vision. He interned with Fendi in Rome in 2009, after having gained a curiosity for fashion during work on his Master’s degree in Architecture. His training with Fendi obviously had an impact on Abloh’s fashion career, so much so that CEO of Louis Vuitton Michael Burke had kept it in mind. “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,” he told the New York Times.

Abloh has every right to direct the Louis Vuitton men’s line. It’s clear that the historic fashion house is looking to rejuvenate itself and upgrade its menswear, and Abloh is clearly a designer who can do that job. His work for Off-White conveys not just an understanding of trends, but a knowledge of art and creativity. Each season shows something fresh, distinctive and true to its roots. The most common argument around Abloh’s work is that it is too much streetwear and not enough luxury. But that is not Abloh’s doing—he has simply noticed a trend in consumer patterns and found a way to blend the opposing worlds of streetwear and luxury.

The Louis Vuitton brand holds centuries of history, but it cannot rely on its tradition alone. The only way established European fashion houses can survive in our modern age is to find a way to translate their traditions into contemporary styles and ideals, just as Balenciaga has done with Demna Gvasalia and Dior did with Raf Simons. If these houses just cling to heritage without finding a way to blend it into something new, they will go extinct. LVMH must have realized this, and therefore brought in Virgil Abloh.

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