Who’s next at Louis Vuitton?

As the luxury menswear industry gathers in Paris to pay tribute to the late Virgil Abloh at his final show, speculation is mounting about how his legacy may be preserved.

The late Virgil Abloh brought a culturally broad aesthetic sensibility to Louis Vuitton menswear – could his successor also be a creative who goes beyond the fashion world?

This is the heart of the ongoing discussion in fashion circles on the eve of Abloh’s latest collection for Louis Vuitton, for Fall/Winter 2022, which will be presented posthumously at the fashion shows on Thursday. male from Paris.

The fashion rumor mill has been abuzz about Abloh’s successor since the 41-year-old designer died of cancer on November 28, 2021. -owned by Loewe with applause for menswear and womenswear , as well as creating her own London-based label, JW Anderson.

Nigo is another possibility: recently hired by Kenzo, he will present his first collection this week, although it may be too early for him. (Insiders noted that John Galliano was quickly moved by LVMH from Givenchy to Dior in the ’90s.) Ronnie Fieg, who founded Kith, and Sacai founder and creative director Chitose Abe, who both built successful brands, were also mentioned.

Emerging designers named include young British designer Grace Wales Bonner, Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo and A-Cold-Wall’s Samuel Ross, (both friends and collaborators of Abloh’s), as well as Casablanca founder Charaf Tajer. Ib Kamara, the Sierra Leone-born stylist and editor of Dazed who would have played a key role in this week’s show, was also a possibility.

Louis Vuitton could also choose to have a creative arrangement à la Moncler Genius and invite a designer for men each season, while keeping Staples Edition, the collection of essentials imagined by Abloh and designed by the studio. The designers and LVMH declined to comment or could not immediately be reached.

The Louis Vuitton brand is at the heart of the LVMH empire, which means CEO Bernard Arnault is likely to take a personal interest in it. Another question is the future of Off-White, the streetwear label that Abloh founded in 2013 with the New Guards group, in which LVMH took a 60% stake.

Virgil Abloh’s first show for Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2019 men’s collection. BERTRAND GUAY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Floriane de Saint Pierre, founder of the eponymous HR consulting firm, believes that a creative outside the fashion world would be a wise choice. “I’m not sure Virgil Abloh can have, or even should have, a successor from fashion,” she says. “Virgil brought much more than design; he brought a cultural voice to everything he did. This is why his work resonated and continues to resonate so deeply. I think the only way is a brilliant cultural mind that can select and direct talent.

His opinion is shared by Pierre Alexandre M’Pelé, alias Pam Boy on social networks, responsible for editorial content at GQ France. “It would be very important not to break the artistic path traced by Virgil Abloh”, he says. “Louis Vuitton’s next male leader should be someone with a strong and unique vision. Whether that person is a trained designer or not is irrelevant. On the contrary, Virgil’s successes have proven to us that vision is what prevails in such a role. It has to be someone young who allows the Louis Vuitton spirit to flourish, creatively speaking.

Virgil Abloh’s legacy comes to mind. “People will look at the symbol behind the profile of the new recruit,” explains Benjamin Simmenauer, professor at the French Fashion Institute. “Are they going to choose continuity or rupture?

The experience required to oversee a mega-brand is also a priority for LVMH. “If we take the hypothesis of internal promotion, Jonathan Anderson is the most logical choice because of his talent, his experience and because of the timing”, specifies Jean Vigneron, associate partner of the Parisian recruitment firm Agent Secret. LVMH named Anderson artistic director of Loewe in 2013.

Louis Vuitton men: increased contribution

LVMH does not break down financial figures for individual brands. However, Louis Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury house, is by far the biggest, generating revenue of 16.7 billion euros in 2021, according to HSBC analyst estimates. This represents 27% of LVMH’s total sales and 53% of its EBIT, also according to HSBC analyst estimates. LVMH will publish its annual results on January 27. Its fashion and leather goods division jumped 57% in the first nine months of 2021. Louis Vuitton accounts for about 58% of the division’s sales and 80% of profits.

Who's next at Louis Vuitton?
Virgil Abloh at the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2020 men’s show. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

While men’s ready-to-wear represents only a small portion of Louis Vuitton’s total revenue, Abloh accelerated the category’s performance and created a number of successes, including eyewear (such as its redesign of Millionaires hues), bags (think the iridescent-hued Keepall bag and slouchy mini boxers for men), harnesses (worn by Timothée Chalamet on the red carpet) and varsity jackets, plus blockbusters that come with a halo effect on the house . His collaboration with Louis Vuitton and Nike on the Air Force 1 sneakers is also on watchlists for when it drops this year.

In LVMH’s third quarter results last October, the group indicated that Louis Vuitton achieved “a remarkable performance, driven by constant innovation and the quality of its products”. Nicolas Ghesquière has been artistic director of women’s fashion at Louis Vuitton since 2013 — his contract was renewed in 2018.

Abloh: more than fashion

In an interview published last November with Anja Aronowsky Cronberg for the 10th issue of college fashion magazine Vestoj, Abloh told the title’s editor: Want to talk about it, you know. I didn’t want to deal with race. And now, I think that’s the only legacy I want to leave as a black designer.

His creative circle included many musicians, including Kanye West, whom he called his “greatest mentor”, Lauryn Hill, Drake and Tyler, the creator, who all attended his funeral. Its creative community also included stylist Ben Perreira, fashion director of Vogue Australia and founder of the New York Wardrobe Christine Centenera and Matthew Williams, the creative director of Givenchy who created the Been Trill collective with Abloh, Heron Preston, Justin Saunders and YWP.

“He used the Trojan Horse metaphor, but he wasn’t trying to burn the system. He was looking for alternatives, to let other people in,” adds Aronowsky Cronberg of Vestoj in an interview with Vogue Business, who was working on a book about Abloh at the time of his death. “He didn’t see his role as reinventing a silhouette, but as changing the way people think about fashion. For me, he was a practicing philosopher.

Of her successor, she says, “If we’re going to speculate, I don’t think it’s going to be someone from Virgil’s world. He was unique – his curiosity, his openness, his way of challenging and destabilizing the hierarchy. This way of moving through the world is not easy to replicate.

Who's next at Louis Vuitton?
Some of Abloh’s collections, from left to right: Fall/Winter 2019, Fall/Winter 2020, Spring/Summer 2021. ALESSANDRO LUCIONI / GORUNWAY.COM, KEN ISHII

The timing of an announcement will be carefully considered, with many industry watchers expecting an extended wait, as a sign of respect. Some claim they risk losing Abloh’s momentum if it’s too late; others say that Louis Vuitton can afford to take its time and entrust the collection to the studio in the meantime. As Mario Ortelli, Managing Director of Ortelli & Co, says: “The succession of Virgil Abloh is not an easy decision in terms of timing, in terms of people. But LVMH will clearly put all its care into making the best decision for the long-term development of the brand and has no financial constraints to [force it to] Hurry up.”

Demand will be high. “I think Louis Vuitton will be spoiled for choice: they have an exceptional view of all talent, given their annual creative competition and the talent they have in the group,” says Luca Solca, analyst at Bernstein.

In accordance with the wishes of Shannon Abloh, Virgil’s wife, Aronowsky Cronberg plans to continue the work “so that his thinking is not reduced to soundbites and drawn quotations”. It’s called Work in Progress. “For Virgil, things were never set in stone: he saw contradictions and change as something natural and very human,” says Aronowsky Cronberg. It includes chapters on appropriation, racial politics, paradox, the role of artists, the idea of ​​”good taste” and segregation between insiders and outsiders. “He had his own plan and his own mission, and while he was there, it overlapped with Louis Vuitton. But I don’t think the social and cultural agenda that drove Virgil is Louis Vuitton’s top priority. They will do what is good for the business.

The dilemma with Louis Vuitton is having someone who is disruptive but at the same time has the foundation to lead. [menswear in] a house of this size and power,” adds Vigneron.