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Louis Vuitton CEO Discusses Virgil Abloh’s Last Show, Succession Plans – WWD

PARIS To say that Virgil Abloh Left with big shoes to fill could be the word of the year.

Louis Vuitton plans to pay tribute to the late art director of menswear with two shows in Paris on Thursday that will encapsulate his philosophy for the brand, from his game changing debut in June 2018 to his show in Miami in late November, which unexpectedly turned into a memorial following Abloh’s sudden death at the age of 41.

“There’s a circular aspect to it, so it goes back to certain things that were surprising in the first show. They’ll be there, obviously, but there are other metaphors he’s always used: it’s the house metaphor, the boy metaphor,” said Michael Burke, president and CEO of the company. Louis Vuitton, told WWD in an exclusive pre-event interview.

For the fall collection, simply titled “8,” expect a flurry of “The Wizard of Oz” references and elements of Surrealism, matching seven of her previous collections. he. “He never wanted a show or a season to be monolithic in its existence. It has to be connected, in obvious and non-obvious ways, to what precedes it and what comes after,” said Burke.

Behind the scenes at Louis Vuitton men's spring 2019

Behind the scenes of Louis Vuitton men’s spring 2019.
Delphine Achard / WWD

After an afternoon performance for the press and influencers, the early evening performance will be an opportunity for friends and family to come together.

“People have really expressed a desire to be in communion. Don’t forget, this is physics first [men’s] recital [for Vuitton] Burke said. “Then, of course, the desire to come together in memory of Virgil, not somewhere online or at our homes, but together in a public space.”

To mark the event, Vuitton will publish a fanzine of the Miami show, with an initial print run of 1,500 copies, which will be available to purchase for eight euros exclusively at OFR. One of Abloh’s favorite bookstores, it’s just down the street from Carreau du Temple, where the shows will be held.

For the first time since Abloh’s death in November, Burke cautiously detailed the subject of his succession, the main subject of speculation in Paris Fashion Week for men’s fall collections. He stressed that the brand, the jewel in the crown of French luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is in no hurry.

“It needs to be delivered on time. That can’t be done under pressure, says Burke, adding that Vuitton is big enough to run on its own steam for a while. “This is not a home that relies on a single individual. Louis Vuitton is too big for any single individual. “

Virgil Abloh at the Celine Spring 2020 show.

Virgil Abloh at the Celine show spring 2020.
Stephane Feugere / WWD

With an industry-leading position, the brand has a wide selection, with names in the news, from established talents like Sacai’s Chitose Abe and Loewe’s Loewe’s creative director Jonathan Anderson, to established talents. emerging talents such as Grace Wales Bonner and Samuel Ross, among others.

“The world is our playground. There are no restrictions on geography, gender, sexual orientation, no age limit. I’ve seen people in their 30s be more mature than people in their 60s, so that’s your mental age, not your physical age,” Burke said of potential candidates.

“But you have to have an appreciation for craftsmanship, you have to have an appreciation for materials, you have to have an appreciation for images and graphics, of course the product. You must have customer appreciation. Virgil is always in the stores,” he continued.

He does not rule out hiring a female menswear creative director, who will be the first for the brand. “Gender never comes into play. Those days are long gone,” Burke said.

To be sure, the right candidate will need the maturity to lead the men’s business for a brand with sales of 16.7 billion euros by 2021, according to recent estimates by HSBC.

Flipping through a book on the “Louis Vuitton Manufacturers” coffee table, dedicated to the house’s artisans, the executive pointed to an old black-and-white photograph of Louis, Georges and Gaston-Louis Vuitton with their staff, taken circa 1888, followed by a Group Portrait photo from 2020 showing current leaders, family members and craftsmen, including the president LVMH and CEO Bernard Arnault.

“This is what the person is going to have to deal with,” Burke said seriously. “When you come to Louis Vuitton, the responsibility is enormous for the past, for the cultural values ​​that exist here.”

Workers produce leather goods in Louis Vuitton's Ateliers de la Drôme workshop.

Workers produce leather goods in Louis Vuitton’s Ateliers de la Drôme workshop.
Olivier Pilcher / Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

He suggests that not everyone is equipped to handle such a juggernaut.

“We make watches, we make jewelry, we make bags, we make leather goods, and those are ties. If you embrace those constraints, you will be very, very successful. If you complain about those constraints, you will fail,” he warned. “What happens after Virgil has to respect the values ​​here in this book: people, hands, heart, passion.”

However, Burke said he was not above making another difficult choice. After appointing Abloh, ushering in a new era of diversity in the luxury industry, he is willing to appoint an unidentified fashion designer, especially since Vuitton is increasingly active in fields as diverse as gaming, sports and entertainment.

“It’s not obvious, but it’s not impossible,” Burke said. However, he warned that anyone stepping into Abloh’s shoes would have to respect the brand’s rules.

“When Virgil arrived, he wasn’t your traditional designer, but he had 10 years of fashion history behind him and he showed tremendous respect for the industry. . He broke parts of it, but I don’t really believe you can break if you throw everything out,” Burke said.

“This individual needs to appreciate the tension between what you can change and what you cannot change,” he added. “And this is where someone who might have a broader passion can have an advantage over someone with a more narrow focus on fashion.”

A sculpture by Virgil Abloh at the Louis Vuitton Men's Spring 2020 show venue in Miami, Florida on November 30, 2021.

A sculpture by Virgil Abloh at the venue for Louis Vuitton’s spring 2020 show in Miami on November 30, 2021.
Lexie Moreland for WWD

How much the 168-year-old brand can change in the weather is an obsession for Burke, although he rejects the image of a janitor.

“I fully expect them to change half of what they find here. It is an obligation. I won’t limit that. It’s part of the job description. I do not accept the fact that I am here to guard the temple,” he said. But longevity is key.

“There are two ways to a luxury home: embrace your predecessors or start with a clean vehicle. And they both work, but they have very different approaches. At a Louis Vuitton house, we needed the former,” he explains.

“If you think about the definition of a luxury company, it’s all about permanence. It’s about what will happen in 50 years and 100 years from now,” he added.

“I was convinced when I hired Virgil that he would respect one half of what he would find and that he would want to twist and have fun with the other half,” says Burke.

“You can’t come clumsily, trying to force change. The Vuitton teams are very, very proud. They are probably the most stable and loyal, hardworking and successful teams in this business in the world,” he argues. “There is a certain amount of appeal. This isn’t fluffy, it’s a very, very serious business. ”

Meanwhile, Burke does not rule out the possibility of cooperation while the search for Abloh’s successor continues. “That has been done successfully in the past. It is not a permanent solution. It’s something that’s going to be more short-term,” commented the executive, who famously oversees Vuitton’s Breakthrough relationship with New York’s hit skate brand Supreme in 2017.

One thing is for sure, Burke is ready to move on from his old profile of lofty creative directors. He noted that in mourning since Abloh’s death, many clients have shared their personal recollections of the designer.

“It seems like everyone has their own story between them and Virgil. He’s very, very open and approachable and grounded. The days of the gilded cage, and everything going on behind closed walls, those days are over,” said Burke.

For many, this ultimate collection will be their last chance to own a piece of Abloh’s legacy. As is recent practice, top customers will be able to order products, starting Friday, through virtual showrooms around the world, as part of the transition to custom manufacturing. orders are consistent with Vuitton’s circulation commitment.

Meanwhile, Burke expects Virgil Abloh’s limited-edition Virgil Abloh “Air Force 1” Louis Vuitton and Nike “Air Force 1” sneakers to be sold out once they hit store shelves. As reported, The shoes are launching with an auction at Sotheby’s to benefit Abloh’s scholarship fund for Black fashion students, which industry sources expect to raise between $5 million and $10 million.

Vuitton has yet to provide details on when the shoes will hit stores, but they are sure to become a collector’s item. “The sneakers, we knew they were going to sell out before we shipped them,” the executive predicted.

SEE MORE:

Virgil Abloh dies of cancer at the age of 41

In memory of Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton opens men’s boutique in Miami

‘Virgil Was Here’: A Look at Virgil Abloh’s Life and Death

https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/louis-vuitton-ceo-talks-final-virgil-abloh-collection-succession-plans-1235041087/ Louis Vuitton CEO Discusses Virgil Abloh’s Last Show, Succession Plans – WWD

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