LVMH looks to the future with Hedi Slimane, Kim Jones and Virgil Abloh
LVMH certainly isn't losing any time this year. In the space of a few short weeks, the luxury group headed by Bernard Arnault has taken the industry by surprise, announcing three important appointments in quick succession at flagship brands Dior, Louis Vuitton and Céline. The most recent of these appointments, that of Virgil Abloh to the head of Louis Vuitton's menswear collections, is particularly surprising for its audacity and promises big changes for the brand.
Considering Abloh's appointment alongside the arrival of Hedi Slimane at Céline and Kim Jones at Dior Homme, it would appear that the group is striding purposefully towards a new phase in its development. The move seems to mirror the actions of rival group Kering, which appointed Alessandro Michele and Demna Gvasalia as the creative directors of Gucci and Balenciaga, respectively, three years ago, and has seen the growth of its brands explode. With its own reshuffle, LVMH, which already sees strong results from Dior, Louis Vuitton and Céline, is strengthening its most dynamic assets while also introducing a new strategy to accelerate growth.
In this respect, the appointment of Virgil Abloh would appear to be the most significant. If Hedi Slimane brings a certain visual cuture to the table, the Ghanaian-American designer and creative advisor to rapper Kanye West promises to bring a new digital dimension to the group. Indeed, Abloh is the first digital-powered designer to be appointed creative director of a historic fashion house.
As he said himself in a recent interview with British daily newspaper The Guardian, "my brand started in the streets and the alleys of the internet". Today, the designer has some 1.6 million followers on Instagram and his label, Off-White, 3.1 million. It's quite the achievement for a brand founded in 2014 which has presented only a dozen or so collections and is now considered to be one of the coolest labels in the world.
"He built his brand and his fame 100% through digitial channels. He's a very impressive person, and gives off a sense of energy, speed and intelligence. He's a strong presence and he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. His appointment is a great tactical move for LVMH. In any case, his is the most exciting appointment as Virgil Abloh is the perfect choice for creating surprises, and expectations will be high at Louis Vuitton", commented an industry insider.
Something of a jack of all trades, the designer, who trained as an engineer and architect, is constantly traveling, jumping from one collaboration to another, with brands such as Jimmy Choo, Levi's, Moncler and Nike, among others. His strength lies in his ability to draw his inspiration from a wide variety of sectors, including music, art and literature, all while keeping his target audience – essentially made up of consumers born after the 1980s – squarely in sight.
Firmly established in current popular culture and demonstrating a strong knowledge of the market, as illustrated by the references and quotations incorporated into his most recent collections and his way of adroitly mixing the most on-trend styles, the 37-year-old designer has the ideal profile to produce runway shows that balance classical codes with contemporary flair.
As highlighted by Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke, who has been accompanying Abloh's career for 12 years, "his innate creativity and disruptive approach have made him so relevant, not just in the world of fashion but in popular culture today. His sensibility towards luxury and savoir-faire will be instrumental in taking Louis Vuitton menswear into the future."
With his haute couture streetwear aesthetic, the designer and DJ can't fail to surprise, but will also be following in the footsteps of the high-end streetwear spirit established at Louis Vuitton by his predecessor, Kim Jones, whose collaboration with cult New York brand Supreme saw unprecedented success last year.
For this reason perhaps, despite bringing in a new name to lead Louis Vuitton, LVMH is certainly not giving up on Jones as, having proved his mettle at Louis Vuitton, the talented English designer has now been appointed as the creative director of Dior Homme, the most prestigious brand in the group's portfolio, and one which he should be able to develop with great skill and care.
The recent appointments therefore reveal a certain pragmatism on the part of LVMH, which is betting on three names that it knows well. While Kim Jones joins Dior from another of the luxury group's brands, Virgil Abloh was a finalist for the LVMH prize in 2015 and met Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke thanks to a collaboration in 2006, when Burke was head of Fendi. Bernard Arnault's son Alexandre even posted a photo of himself and the designer on his Instagram account, commenting "I am proud to welcome this great friend and talent to the Group," while also announcing an imminent collaboration between Off-White and Rimowa.
As for Hedi Slimane, who previously received praise for his work at Dior Homme, LVMH has chosen the designer to drive the relaunch of Céline after the departure of Phoebe Philo and, above all, to oversee the launch of the brand's very first menswear collection, as well as its haute couture and fragrance divisions. Here again, it looks like revolution is afoot.
All in all, the group has made three well considered choices, appointing experienced designers who should be able to conserve their respective brands' heritage and tradition, while also breathing new life into them. The appointments should add a touch of streetwear and a new digital approach to Louis Vuitton and Dior, and bring the two historic fashion houses closer to the much coveted millennial market.
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