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Why Virgil Abloh’s new gig is kind of a big deal

Kai Acevedo

 // Apr 3, 2018

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Remember Kanye West’s Yeezus-era stream-of-consciousness rants? How could you not? The comparisons to Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and God; folks like Nike’s CEO Mark Parker, Brandy’s little brother and MTV’s Sway catching fade; quotables like “It ain’t Ralph though!” or “I am the nucleus.” It was all pretty unforgettable. Also targeted in those now infamous speeches were big corporations, the media and, especially, the fashion industry.

Already perceived as a foreign land to most people, the portrayal of the fashion world throughout many of those long-winded Yeezy rants wasn’t the most pleasant, and yet was very believable. As his penchant for beat-making and bar-slinging apparently began taking a backseat to his passion for fashion, the “New Slave” rap megastar spoke of a space that generally felt uninviting, slightly racist, and as if it didn’t want to let him or anyone that resembled him (whether as a black man from Chicago or a musician with dreams of design) into the building.

Knowing Kanye, who has reportedly begun recording new material in Wyoming, he’s probably already carving out his vision for how to bring his songs and thoughts, new and old, to life on stage. And while he figures that out, he’ll have one less thing to rant about when he finally does hit the road. Virgil Abloh, longtime creative partner-in-crime to the Louie Vuitton Don, was recently announced as LV’s new artistic director for menswear.

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One of the most buzzed about figures in all of pop culture, Abloh has become a disruptively creative force in fashion, music and art. His designs have been coined as everything from innovative to ironic, and have been both championed and criticized. Garnering inspiration from hip-hop, skate culture, grunge, the art scene and even Princess Diana, his creative direction has helped a long list of brands (including Nike, Jimmy Choo, Sunglass Hut, and Ikea to name a few) get in tune with their cool.

Another recent collaborator for Abloh has been art God Takashi Murakami, who became famous among hip-hop circles after designing the colorfully iconic artwork for Kanye’s Graduation. Titled “future history,” Abloh and Murakami’s art show is currently being held at London’s Gagosian Gallery.

Often worn by the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and Cardi B, as well as top models like Naomi Campbell and Luka Sabbat, Abloh’s Off-White label—with its 3.2 million followers on Instagram—has been awarded some of fashion’s most prestigious honors including the Urban Luxe Award at last year’s Fashion Awards, GQ’s International Designer of the Year, and several several CFDA nominations.

It remains to be seen if Abloh can successfully fill the shoes of other forward-thinking, game-changers who have re-energized Louis Vuitton in the past like Marc Jacobs or Kim Jones. A few things are difficult to ignore, however.

“Give a Black man a chance,” Kanye, in the midst of one of his OG rants, reportedly shouted after the 2007 MTV VMAs. He would later echo those sentiments during his rampages circa Yeezus.

A win for the culture, Abloh’s appointment has already reached hall of fame levels. Now Louis Vuitton's first black artistic director, he is also one of only three black designers who have been tasked with heading a French fashion house of this magnitude. Having his seat reserved at a table where historically we haven’t had much influence is kind of a big deal.

“Streetwear might be an art movement,” Abloh told Hypebeast last year, and he might be on to something. A once frowned upon subgenre being as highly regarded as art just shows that streetwear’s influence has penetrated all things luxury. Part of the appeal of Abloh is that it always seems like he is at the center of what’s lit on the concrete strips of NYC, Paris, London, Japan and everywhere else that matters. Even though Louis Vuitton has been known to keep their ears to the streets (think: their Marc Jacobs era or the Supreme collab), partnering with a name at the forefront of this streetwear revolution is trending on the high-end fashion circuit. It falls in line with the moves of Calvin Klein, Balenciaga, Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Givenchy, who have aligned with big-named designers with street cred, further proving the subculture’s mainstream takeover.

"Is Abloh a creative genius or a hype man?" will probably be asked a lot leading up to the unveiling of his inaugural collection for Louis Vuitton. But at this point, does the answer even matter? Lacking formal fashion training, he has already ascended the ranks of fashion’s elite. The Abloh Effect is real. Look around you. The proof is on the feet, back, face, or in the ears or house of someone you know.

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