Virgil Abloh, the founder of the haute street wear label Off-White and a longtime creative director for Kanye West, will be the next artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton, one of the oldest and most powerful European houses in the luxury business.
He becomes Louis Vuitton’s first African-American artistic director, and one of the few black designers at the top of a French heritage house. Olivier Rousteing is the creative director of Balmain, and Ozwald Boateng, from Britain, was the designer for Givenchy men’s wear from 2003 to 2007.
“I feel elated,” Mr. Abloh said via phone on Sunday, adding that he planned to relocate his family to Paris to take the job at the largest brand in the stable of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury group. “This opportunity to think through what the next chapter of design and luxury will mean at a brand that represents the pinnacle of luxury was always a goal in my wildest dreams. And to show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start.”
Mr. Abloh’s appointment is also a reflection of the increasing consumer-driven intermingling of the luxury and street wear sectors, which helped boost global sales of luxury personal goods by 5 percent last year to an estimated 263 billion euros (about $325 billion in today’s dollars), according to a recent study by the global consulting firm Bain & Company. And it is an acknowledgment on the part of the luxury industry that it must respond to contemporary culture in new ways.
“Virgil is incredibly good at creating bridges between the classic and the zeitgeist of the moment,” said Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton. The two men first met about 12 years ago when Mr. Abloh spent six months interning at Fendi with Kanye West, where Mr. Burke was then the chief executive.
Despite having no formal fashion education (his mother was a seamstress and taught him her trade; he studied architecture and civil engineering), Mr. Abloh founded Off-White — a reference to his belief that old barriers are breaking down — in 2013, almost a decade after he first meet Mr. West and became his creative partner. In 2015, Off-White was a finalist for the LVMH Young Designers Prize. (Mr. Abloh will be the first LVMH finalist to take on a major design role in an LVMH brand.)
Off-White currently has 3.1 million Instagram followers (Mr. Abloh alone has 1.6 million), and Mr. Abloh received the Urban Luxe award at the British Fashion Awards last year. During the just-past women’s wear season, there was almost a riot in the Rue Cambon outside the Off-White show as fans crowded to get in.
A champion of the cross-branded collaboration, Mr. Abloh has worked with names as varied as Nike, Jimmy Choo, Moncler and, with an upcoming project, Ikea. Most recently, he teamed up with Takashi Murakami, a frequent Vuitton collaborator, for a show at the Gagosian Gallery in London.
“In a way, all of my output has been to make a compelling case for me to take on a role such as this,” Mr. Abloh said. “I think of it as kind of the ultimate collaboration.”
. (Mr. Abloh will be the first LVMH finalist to take on a major design role in an LVMH brand.)
“Product is only one part of the luxury narrative,” Mr. Abloh said in the phone interview. “I want to use Louis Vuitton’s history with travel to really look at different cultures around the world to help make all our humanity visible. When creativity melds together with global issues, I believe you can bring the world together. Fashion on this level can really open eyes.”
Mr. Abloh will continue to run Off-White — “it is for the 17-year-old version of myself, whereas Vuitton is for the 37-year-old I am today,” he said — and to work with Mr. West. But he said he would cut back on his other activities, including moonlighting as a D.J. He will show his first collection for Louis Vuitton during Paris Men’s Fashion Week in June.