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.”
The appointment, widely rumored in recent months, is part of a shake-up on the men’s wear side of LVMH, which began in January with the departure of Kim Jones, Mr. Abloh’s predecessor at Louis Vuitton. Last week, it was announced that Mr. Jones would become the men’s wear designer at LVMH stablemate Christian Dior, replacing Kris van Assche.
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.
“I paid them $500 a month!” Mr. Burke said. “I was really impressed with how they brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi. I have been following his career ever since.”
Mr. Abloh, 37, a first-generation Ghanaian-American raised in Illinois, is widely considered one of fashion’s consummate purveyors of cool; a master of using irony, reference and the self-aware wink (plus celebrity, music, digital and hype), to recontextualize the familiar and give it an aura of cultural currency.
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.