GeneralVirgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton: Why he’s not the...

Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton: Why he’s not the answer to racism and diversity in the fashion industry


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By Tanya Mwamuka.

If you are as enthusiastic as I am about fashion there is no doubt you would have heard Louis Vuitton’s newest appointment; Ghanaian- American Designer, Virgil Abloh. Abloh has been was announced as the French luxury house’s newest artistic director for their menswear. Abloh’s first show is set to take place this June at Paris Fashion week.

So who is Abloh and what are his credentials? Abloh has been known for his unusual take on high fashion, marrying it well with street wear and urban culture. The 37 year old started on a very different pathway, receiving an undergraduate in Civil Engineering and a masters in Architecture. Alongside friend and rapper Kanye West, he began his career in fashion, interning at Italian fashion house Fendi. In 2011 Abloh held the role of art director for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s album Watch the Throne which he was subsequently nominated a grammy for. Shortly after in 2013, he launched Pyrex Vision, which brought him into the spotlight. Pyrex blended in the mass of streetwear brands, only distinguishing itself due to it being worn by celebrities such as Kanye West, Jay Z and Asap Rocky.

Pyrex Vision shorts Image courtesy of Highsnobiety Shoots

Pyrex Vision was quickly discontinued after one year despite its success, and his high end Milan based brand Off White was then born. Off White, being a hybrid brand, provided streetwear attire for both men and women with luxury price tags. At first it seemed to be a regurgitation of Pyrex with a different name, but with refinement year after year it gained respect amongst the luxury community, establishing Abloh as a serious designer.

Image: Off White AW17/18 collection

But has Abloh’s appointment changed inclusivity and diversity within the fashion industry? The fashion industry has much to say about this appointment, Edward Enninful amongst them noting “His appointment is a step in the right direction for diversity, as well exciting creative movement for the industry”. Much like the use of more inclusive models, there also seems to be a domino affect of people of colour gaining artistic control. This was recently ignited by the appointment of Enninful as Editor and Chief of British Vogue last August.

Edward Enninful

It’s easy to think that Abloh’s new position has solved the epidemic of racism within the industry but that simply isn’t true. The issue with labelling appointments like Abloh’s or Enninful as ”progressive” or “revolutionising” is that they hardly make a dent in actually solving these issues. The infrastructure of fashion is set-up to promote exclusivity and with the little bit of black influence whitewashed to fit what the industry sees as suitable. So instead of the industry delving deeper into the structure which fuels this, creatives like Abloh are used as front men. The industry appears progressive when really nothing is. In some ways this is almost comparable to Barack Obama’s win of the presidential elections. Many spoke of America entering a “post- racial” era, which is laughable when you consider the events which unfolded, showing it is in fact a polar opposite.

The real impact of Abloh’s new role: 

Yes, putting black creatives in artistic control is definitely a positive, but it’s p only scratching the surface in solving the racial issues and lack of diversity that persist. Fashion houses, influencers and creatives in power need to do better and be made accountable if we are to see real change. Abloh’s appointment as a way of resolving this has been very much exaggerated and if anything, Virgil’s streetwear background is the real reason, for me at least, which makes his appointment revolutionising.

His unique hybrid approach to design has opened the doors of luxury to a generation who have always felt alienated by its impenetrability. To think, Abloh has no formal fashion training, yet the king of collaborations has superseded anyone’s expectations. It’s no doubt that his quick rise to fame and influence in the industry is deserving for his new post. Congratulations Virgil, you truly have done something incredible.


Tanya is currently studying Biomedical Sciences at the University of Manchester and hopes to get into science journalism and media after completing her degree. She loves fashion and travelling and enjoys learning languages in her spare time; she’s currently learning French.

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  1. Very interesting take Tanya! I have a question for you though, how do you think we actually solve racism or make considerable progress in it. You stated that he may have been used as a ‘front man’, to maybe give the impression that things are getting better when maybe they arent. Im interested to find out what you think can be done and whether having more people of colour in positions of influence is the way we turn this ship around

  2. A very good question indeed !
    Giving POC power positions like they did Virgil and Edward is definitely the right move, they are able to direct their influence in who gets hired, who ends up on campaigns etc and can increase diversity from the top. But the fashion industry needs to understand one or two POC’s in charge doesn’t mean” problem solved lets move on”

    The majority of the diversity issues come from inherent biases rather then outright racism. These biases influence what the beauty standard is, whats fashionable and desireable which usually aligns with eurocentric features and views.

    This is why to change those biases and to represent the interest’s of non white people the need for POC throughout rather then in just a few is key. So there needs to be more POC agents, scouts, photographers, designers, and publishers to change from the bottom up, it needs to be one cooperate.
    movements rather then a few half hearted efforts

    people may argue that you don’t neccecarily need someone to look like you in those positions to deliver what you want. But thats clearly not the case since year after year consumers are complaining but nothing is changing and thats probably because, its not something that effects those in decision making places.

    On another note there is something that consumers can do. Stop supporting those brands that don’t take the time to be inclusive, and don’t listen to your complaints. For example after the H&M scandal many of my friends stopped buying from them. We’re very much in complaining culture so there really shouldn’t be the “we didnt know” excuses brands like to pull and if you don’t know then hire someone that does. And this boycott threat can quickly influence other brands to access issues in fear if loosing clientele and profits.

    I also do believe complaining isn’t always effective when it’s just POC’s doing it especially those not in power. If those non POC truelly care about the state of diversity then they also need to be seen calling out those brands and the fashion industry.

    Finally why not a governing body? Other workplaces have measures and organisation to implement diversity and stop racial biases so it seems odd that an industry which is based on subjective taste, set on impressing a few gate keepers, doesn’t. If anything it does need more regulation because it’s not just about the clothes but the people in them too.

  3. Wow! That was a really informative article Tanya, and your comment was probably another article in of itself lol. One thing I have always disliked about the fashion industry (I’m no expert of course) is the presence of those gate keepers that you alluded to, whose subjective taste appears to decide which designs are ‘acceptable’ or not.

    I do agree that perhaps a governing body would be a good step towards addressing the racial inequalities within the industry itself, because if not the fashion industry may continue to resort to symbolic appointments of individuals as is the case with Virgil, and then declare themselves free of all biases and adequately culturally and racially diverse.

  4. I completely I agree to me fashion is all about creativity but unfortunately the industry was designed to create an air of elusiveness and exclusivity, luckily though I do feel over the past few years a common trend is “everything and anything” is fashionable. If you can make it look cool and be confident then it’s accepted so I guess it is definitely moving to be more inclusive

    Yes the governing body is only a theory but it’s something that works for so many other industries so it’s definitely worth a shot since no other cooperative action is being made !

  5. I don’t follow the fashion world too closely but from what I’ve seen, it is moving towards more inclusiveness which is a great thing. Hopefully we see some form of governing body in the future!

Comments are closed.

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