Has Louis Vuitton made a winning bet with Virgil Abloh and Nicolas Ghesquière?
Between the chic, modern "femme française" presented during March's Paris womenswear Fashion Week and the ethnically diverse street-couture runway unveiled at the French capital's recent men's Fashion Week, Louis Vuitton couldn't be sending a clearer message to the industry. With Nicolas Ghesquière at the head of its womenswear collections and Virgil Abloh leading menswear, the luxury house seems to be no longer targeting two gendered markets, but rather two entirely different segments.
When Rihanna attended Virgil Abloh's first show for LVMH's flagship label sporting a white ensemble identical to the looks in the Louis Vuitton menswear collection for spring/summer 2019 before they hit the runway, and carrying one of the monogrammed white and transparent bags which would also be revealed during the show, one wondered whether Abloh might soon be elbowing Nicolas Ghesquière out of the picture.
Apparently though, that's not what Louis Vuitton has on the cards for the moment. Indeed, the luxury house had already announced in May that it would be renewing its contract with Nicolas Ghesquière, hoping to put an end to the growing speculation about the possible departure of the creative director of its womenswear collections. "Nicolas Ghesquière brings continuity, at the same time as the brand is evolving with Virgil Abloh leading menswear," commented Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, at the time, commending the house's decisions, which, he claimed, were adapted "to a rapidly evolving market."
"Virgil Abloh's new vision of the Louis Vuitton man is not the Louis Vuitton woman's companion! It's clear that the brand is targeting two different worlds. It's maintaining its hyper chic positioning with womenswear, while, with menswear, it hopes to reach millennials, the millions of followers that Virgil Abloh has, social networks linked to music, etc." said Stefano Matinetto, CEO of Tomorrow London Holdings Ltd, a firm specialised in distributing and supporting the work of young designers.
Rihanna, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, ASAP Rocky, Bella Hadid, Naomi Campbell, Kylie Jenner and rapper Travis Scott – the audience at the first Louis Vuitton runway of the Ghanaian-American designer, whose own label Off-White garnered 4 million subscribers in four years, certainly seems to confirm this strategy.
Indeed, the house's menswear strategy no longer appears to be to provide a male counterpart to its womenswear collections. In a market which is increasingly global, segmented and competitive, Louis Vuitton, which accounts for almost half of LVMH's operating profit, now has its sights set on new horizons. As part of the same strategy, the brand also beefed up its design teams with a new appointment in April, recruiting former Tiffany designer Francesca Amfitheatrof as the creative director of its watch and jewellery lines.
"The idea is to expand Louis Vuitton's brand universe, its attractiveness and, above all, its audience. Virgil Abloh and Nicolas Ghesquière both have a very clear vision and each one is very good at what he does. It's a very strong message," explained Andrew Keith, president of Chinese brands Lane Crawford and Joyce Boutique.
"Above all, it emphasises the label's flexibility and its ability to expand its horizons by betting on its heritage, its values and other complementary elements," he added.
In 1997, the choice of Marc Jacobs as Louis Vuitton's new creative director was considered a rather daring move and signalled the start of a new era for the brand. The designer scrawled over the label's famous bags with graffiti and helped catapult the heritage brand into the new millennium. Now, as it takes aim at two distinct markets, LVMH's powerhouse looks to have doubled down on its designers.
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