Virgil Abloh gets a seat at the LVMH Power Table
Virgil Abloh – the fashion designer, DJ and pop culture expert – is poised to become the most powerful black executive in the world’s most powerful luxury goods group.
On Tuesday, LVMH announced the acquisition of 60% of the capital of Off-White, the luxury streetwear brand founded in 2013 by Mr. Abloh and which he still designs, alongside his position as artistic director of men’s fashion. Louis Vuitton.
In addition, Mr. Abloh, 40, will take on a larger role within LVMH, working in categories such as wines and spirits (LVMH owns Krug, Dom Pérignon and Hennessy, among 30 brands) and hospitality (more of 50 hotels, including Cipriani in Venice and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire), breaking down silos and bringing more diverse voices to a variety of brands.
“I’m taking a seat at the table,” said Mr. Abloh happily, speaking via Zoom from Chicago, where he lives.
While his job definition is still pretty nebulous (head of disruption?), The news gives Mr. Abloh, a first-generation Ghanaian-American, a fairly broad tenure and makes Off-White one of the few brands. of the LVMH team not to be anchored in European heritage.
It also marks a potential new step in the evolution of LVMH, which came out of the pandemic with its shares up 60% this year, and had such a good first quarter (revenues are up 30% from at the same period in 2020, pre-Covid) that its president, Bernard Arnault, was briefly the richest man in the world.
“We are not trying to emulate a model that already exists,” said Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, of Mr. Abloh’s new role. “It’s more like what Bernard Arnault did when he bought Dior and decided to create a federation of luxury brands. That is to say, shake up the status quo.
Now, Mr. Arnault is trying to get his own organization out of its comfort zone with Mr. Abloh as the whisperer of the times.
The new arrangement is akin to the collaborations Mr. Abloh specializes in – with Ikea, Nike, Champion, Vitra and Equinox, to name a few – but boosted by a protein shake and with long-term implications. . Mr. Abloh isn’t just getting a cool sounding new gig; he obtains a stake in all the cross-pollinated projects he develops.
“We are trying to return the founders to their graves, but in the best possible way,” said Mr. Burke. “Some of our bigger brands tend not to see it in their best interests to stay connected with the contemporary world.
Being “connected to the contemporary world” has not been a problem for Mr. Abloh, who is often compared to Jeff Koons, defines himself as a “manufacturer” rather than a designer and praises the “3% approach”, who argues that you only need to change 3% of a design to qualify it as a new one.
LVMH has expressed its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, despite having an all-white board of directors and executive committee. It didn’t help that LVMH last year suspended Fenty, its short-lived experience building a direct-to-consumer brand with Rihanna (although the company remains involved with Rihanna through its cosmetics brand).
The new arrangement with Mr. Abloh and Off-White is part of a flurry of activity on the part of LVMH. He bought Tiffany last year as part of the biggest luxury deal (his new ad campaign reads: ‘Not Your Mother’s Tiffany’). Last week he announced he was taking a minority stake in Phoebe Philo’s new company of the same name; last month he reopened the renovated La Samaritaine department store with an appearance by President Emmanuel Macron; and later this year, the ultra-luxury Cheval Blanc hotel and the Dior spa will open in Paris.
The accord also positions Off-White, who is best known for his ironic display of quotation marks (and his tendency to quote not only phrases but, arguably, styles) for what Mr. Abloh calls “generational growth.”
Although Off-White, the company, will still be operated by New Guards Group, the Italian manufacturing company that licenses the brand (and which is itself owned by Farfetch), Off-White LLC, which owns the brand. , will be incorporated in the LVMH Fashion and Leather Goods Group. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Mr Burke said “it took about five minutes to reach a deal.”
LVMH is used to acquiring or buying a minority stake in the personal brands of the creators it hires to work with its heritage labels. It’s a model he developed with John Galliano when he was creative director of Dior (when he was fired, he also lost his rights to his name); Marc Jacobs, whose brand is still part of LVMH; and JW Anderson, Loewe’s Creative Director.
Yet, according to Mr. Burke, Off-White is the largest brand of its kind ever acquired by LVMH, with 56 stores worldwide and a presence in 40 countries.
Mr Abloh said he hoped the deal would ensure Off-White will be “in historic corners of the world for years to come”. He also said the partnership would be used to expand Off-White into categories such as cosmetics and housewares, as well as to expand the leather goods side of the business.
Mr. Abloh, who has an engineering degree and no formal training in fashion (his mother, a dressmaker, taught him to sew), began his relationship with LVMH in 2007 when he was Creative Director for Kanye West and the two interns at Fendi, the Italian brand. In 2015, he was a finalist for the LVMH Young Designers Award, and in 2018, he was named Louis Vuitton men’s clothing designer.
In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, Mr. Abloh established the Postmodern Scholarship Fund to help black students and promote diversity in fashion. Louis Vuitton was one of the first funders of the fund, which raised around $ 1 million; three scholarship recipients are interning at Vuitton.
“The idea is to develop a trajectory that I would have liked to have had when I started out,” said Abloh. Its new role, he added, is to open doors for non-traditional luxury candidates at all levels of the industry, from entry level to top. Maybe especially at the top. “I focus on relevance,” he said. “Relevance is my metric.”