The late Virgil Abloh’s eight-collection tenure at Louis Vuitton concluded with the brand’s AW ’22 collection, designed in conjunction with Milan-based tattoo artist Ghusto Leon. It marked the end of an era for a brand that is yet to name a replacement for its men’s artistic director whose “you can do it too” mantra continues to inspire an entire generation of creatives beyond fashion.
His boundless curiosity and child-like wonderment left an imprint beyond the French brand and his last collection was described by many in the fashion press as a consolidation of his eight-season run. Svelte, cape-like tracksuiting, billowing scarf shirts, sequins, swollen tulle skirts and varsity jackets with cartoonish motifs all made an appearance in a show that demonstrated Abloh’s unmistakable boyish humour and his hybridisation as a central tenet of his design practice.
Whoever eventually fills his shoes has their work cut out. It won’t be easy to escape the long shadow of a designer whose short but iconic career as creative director for one of the world’s leading luxury fashion brands is nothing short of legendary. Speaking of which, one has to wonder — almost a year since his passing — who might the brand be looking at as a replacement?
Abloh’s success as men’s artistic director for LV saw the brand widening his responsibilities due to his transformative bridging of streetwear and luxury at a time when streetwear had become a dominant aesthetic, thanks in part brands such as Off-White, which he founded in 2013. He was the perfect candidate for a company seeking to extend its relevance to a younger generation that Abloh spoke to.
At the time of writing, a report from Business of Fashion places the likes of Telfar Clemens, British-Jamaican men's wear designer Martine Rose and Grace Wales Boner as front-runners. I would argue that these are all worthy successors.
For one, it would be a mistake for Louis Vuitton to not look at some of the leading designers of black heritage who can continue to bring to luxury fashion a perspective that went unrepresented before Abloh’s ascent.
Wales Bonner uses her mixed-race heritage as a key reference in her collections and has been described as an “academic designer” and “cultural polymath” interweaving notions of self-identity and self-expression. She works with artists, writers and performers, including FKA Twigs. This bridging of multiple disciplines makes her uniquely suited to step into the shoes of someone like Abloh, whose force many credit for influencing a new generation with broad cultural interests. Her appointment would bode well for LV’s continued relevance in an era where the rise of designers from the African continent — Thebe Magugu, to be precise — calls for innovative design, grounded in storytelling and a fresh narrative.
In this regard, Clemens, who has rewritten the rules of luxury retail and oversaw his brand Telfar’s best year at the height of Covid-19 with a strategy to control all its own sales, would also be a fitting replacement. Everything he stands for — inclusivity, community, independence — is everything a brand seeking to appeal to a new generation of consumers needs to embrace. What better way to do so than to make a hire who demonstrates that?
A few years ago, Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia invited Martine Rose to consult for the brand’s men's wear collections. Her subversive eponymous brand draws references from rave, S&M and a general non-conformity and has attracted the likes of Rihanna. Having started her brand in 2007, just a few years later Rose had become the talk of the London fashion scene due to her unexpected approach. For example, she had only one look in her 2015 spring presentation, stating that sometimes “that’s all that needs to be said”.
Luxury fashion is no longer just the exclusive purview of a wealthy homogeneous demographic. Continuing to be relevant means tapping into the zeitgeist, but also having an eye on the future. Virgil Abloh embodied this, which is what made his appointment a stroke of genius on the part of the French house.
The three names touted as his possible replacement are among the best-placed candidates to take what he did forward as they have all displayed their own unique approaches to innovation and cultural relevance.