Big fashion houses are stirring change
Louis Vuitton is one of the most important and powerful fashion brands with 450 stores worldwide (though not all sell menswear).
Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton (Menswear), Riccardo Tisci at Burberry and Hedi Slimane at Celine - who would have thought? All these recent appointments have been a bit of a surprise. In fact, many believed that British designer Phoebe Philo (who left Celine after a decade) would be the one to take over the very British fashion house Burberry after Christopher Bailey (also a Brit) exited. Yet, it was Tisci, who worked at Paris-base Givenchy for about 12 years, who got the top job at Burberry. It wasn't an obvious move, to say the least. Tisci's work reflects his South Mediterranean heritage, and he is known for his love of all things gothic, which is why industry watchers believed he is a 'fit' for a fashion house such as Versace rather than Burberry.
Philo had turned around Celine with her chic take on minimalism and was replaced by Hedi Slimane, a designer famous for introducing the super skinny silhouette for men when he was at Christian Dior. Fashion maestro Karl Lagerfeld famously lost around 41kg so that be could fit into one his suits and, in fact, many felt after he left Yves Saint Laurent, Slimane would join Lagerfeld at Chanel to head a menswear division. And loyalists of Celine's fuss-free approach to fashion seemed anxious at Slimane's appointment and took to the brand's Instagram page to voice their views.
While it was rumoured within industry circles that Virgil Abloh would be the incoming artistic director for menswear at Louis Vuitton, it still was met with surprise when it was made official just a few days ago. Louis Vuitton is one of the most important and powerful fashion brands with 450 stores worldwide (though not all sell menswear). Abloh is not widely known out of the industry despite the fact that he was the founder of breakout label Off-White and also creative director of Kayne West's label. (He is also a part-time DJ). Known for his ability to mix street and youth culture with high fashion, he is not formally trained in fashion. Born in Illinois, he is also the super brand's first African American director, and one of the few designers of colour to head artistic direction at a major fashion house. Though that is not the reason for the industry's warm welcome to his appointment.
These three appointments seem to say that fashion is looking for a new direction and perhaps for a shake-up. It also confirms that street style is now an essential part of high fashion. Abloh, like Tisci (who featured a transgender model in one of his campaigns while he was at Givenchy) is not scared to make a political statement through his fashion. Playing it safe is not the name of the game right now. Whether it's the current uncertain market conditions, a way to attract the new millennial buyer or to bring back customers who have perhaps become bored with the sameness of a label, fashion seems open to taking a risk. While we all know that the only constant in this industry is change, for a power brand to be open to "disruption", is a sign of strength and belief in the power of fashion. And it has been reported that Abloh is already working on a brand manual for the new direction that menswear will take at Louis Vuitton.
So next season of fashion week could bring in a new cool wave into the industry. And it's about time!
Sujata Assomull is the Consulting Fashion Editor at Khaleej Times