The recent acquisition of Virgil Abloh as a part of Louis Vuitton‘s fashion legacy is an ongoing trend of Black creatives being beguiled to season high fashion with their secret sauce. But while I’m ecstatic for Abloh, I’m not sure what this means for Black culture and the progression and value of Black fashion.
The news of Abloh’s hiring was announced Monday after the company revealed they would be parting ways with their current Creative Director and designer for Men’s, Kim Jones (who will be staying with the parent company and designing for Christian Dior Mens). Beginning June 2018, he joins the ranks of a limited number of fashion designers in the industry to hold this position, including Marc Jacobs.
On the heels of a successful collaboration with Supreme, which led LV to stop the pop-ups due to all the pandemonium, the brand is making a definitive step to future collections being shaped by streetwear king, Abloh. The French fashion house named Abloh as their Artistic Director and menswear designer, making him the first Black artistic director for the brand.
Creating Black history in the fashion space, this position is undoubtedly deserving for the ever-so-talented Abloh but at what price to street culture or more blatantly, Black culture?
Abloh is Kanye West‘s longtime creative director, who designed the cover for his collaboration album, Watch The Throne, with Jay-Z, and was nominated for a Grammy for his artwork in 2011. Kanye’s obsession and love for fashion (at time of publication, he has been silent on this news) led him to an internship with Fendi Roma in 2009. West brought along Abloh and it was there he founded Pyrex Vision, a hybrid between high-end and streetwear, which has morphed into the oh-so-popular Off White.
His uncanny ability to take classics and modernize them with a flair that makes influencers and editors alike squeal, he has had successful collaborations with everyone from Nike to Levi’s, giving them eccentric twists and flairs that seem effortless and definitely cool.
I’m a huge advocate for partnerships and collaborations. I look to larger brands like Nike, Vans, etc. to give platforms for smaller brands to help elevate and bring awareness. Collaborations also create coveted capsules that are candy for fashion lovers and collectors; however, when does collaboration turn into co-opting?
Whether it’s Gucci casting an all-Black cast for their Spring/Summer 2018 campaign and then insensitively asking them to “dance” or questioning “what is soul?” Or even the CFDA trying to circumvent Supreme, originally a popular streetwear brand, as their own with an official nomination. All of it together feels a little like colonization of Black fashion.
Louis Vuitton is a heralded luxury travel brand, with a rich history. What they are not is “streetwear” and while I love their collabs (the Louis Vuitton x Supreme was FIRE), I can’t help but wonder why Virgil can’t continue to build his own brand and leave his own legacy. He doesn’t have a traditional fashion background and went from designing album covers to now, Louis Vuitton. Is this a celebration or a co-opting of street culture and finesse by the elite?
I think of Yves Saint Laurent, who created an African collection in 1967, based off of his travels and inspirations from Morrocco. But while he loved viewing Black fashion on Black people, he chose a white model, Twiggy, to star in the campaign. Furthermore, according to the Museé Yves Saint Laurent Paris, Laurent only chose light-skinned models for the actual runway show. The fashion industry is notorious for letting us in while simultaneously keeping us out.
Hundreds of years from now, I want Abloh’s history of his brand (and however it evolves) to be heralded. I want his talents on display and not diluted by the fashion foundations who wouldn’t even give us a seat at the table. Black culture and fashion is fashion and I want our foundations at the forefront.
Congratulations, Victor Abloh. Please save your best or most innovative designs for Off-White.