LVMH, the French luxury conglomerate whose portfolio of brands ranges from Louis Vuitton to Moët to Tiffany, is giving American designer Virgil Abloh license to get creative across its businesses.
The company announced today it is expanding its relationship with Abloh, the founder of fashion label Off-White who LVMH hired as artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear in 2018. LVMH will buy a controlling stake in Off-White LLC and team with Abloh to launch new brands and “partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond the realm of fashion.”
That means Abloh will get to branch out beyond fashion to LVMH’s other segments, which include liquor, watches, and leather goods. “There’s areas within the spirits side of the business that are attractive to me; there’s areas within the hospitality, the hotels side; jewelry—you know, more minutiae within the fashion segment,” Abloh told fashion trade outlet WWD (paywall). “My eyes have always been wide in terms of fashion, arts and culture and how they can merge together.”
Virgil Abloh, fashion’s master collaborator
What, exactly, Abloh’s role will be is a bit vague. LVMH has not provided further details, and Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, told WWD neither LVMH nor Abloh would be playing a traditional role seen before in the luxury industry.
But Abloh, a 40-year-old from Chicago, is widely known as fashion‘s most prolific collaborator, regularly working with brands in a variety of industries. He has made home goods with IKEA, a water bottle with Evian, sneakers with Nike, a chair with Vitra, denim with Levi’s, women’s shoes with Jimmy Choo, sunglasses with Warby Parker, and more. He’s worked on items with LVMH brands, too, including a transparent suitcase for its high-end luggage line, Rimowa, and bottles for Moët’s Nectar Imperial Rosé.
In some cases the collaboration is essentially a tweak of one—or 10—of a company’s established designs, maybe emblazoned with a word or phrase in quotation marks, an Abloh signature. He has talked often about his “three percent approach,” altering an existing item by just 3% to make it new. Wholly original or not, products with Abloh’s name attached tend to generate attention.
In addition to working on similar projects across LVMH’s portfolio, Abloh’s company, Off-White, will get the resources to expand into other product lines, while Abloh will help launch new brands from a diverse array of designers. In the announcement of the deal, Abloh said he would use the partnership “to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion.”
LVMH looks to the future
One question is why LVMH is undertaking the project now. The company has emerged from the pandemic as one of luxury’s strongest performers and appears to be using the moment to position itself for the future. This year it completed its acquisition of Tiffany. Recently it announced it will back a new fashion company from Phoebe Philo, former creative director of its Celine brand.
It seems it wants to reenergize its existing brands too—before they get tired. “We have many old-line businesses at LVMH, and they’re very successful,” Burke told WWD. “But one day, most of them will reawaken to something quite different, and we don’t know what that is. But we sure know that by putting extreme creative talent with extreme provenance, sparks will happen.”