Why Every Luxury Brand Should Get Their Very Own Virgil Abloh

The luxury industry is shifting to cater for younger markets, which supposedly means adapting street wear values, choosing younger brand ambassadors, a more relevant approach on social media, and ultimately—getting your own Virgil Abloh.

In 2017, global luxury goods consulting firm Bain & Company came out with a press release which one of the findings points out that millennials are already contributing towards 30 percent of global luxury sales. This means global luxury sales are looking at a significant increase to about 45 percent by 2025—all thanks to the younger generation of luxury buyers.

Global Web Index states that 67 percent of Millennials, aged 23 to 36, from a survey they did are regular luxury buyers considering they are well into their careers. Another group of generation that shouldn’t be forgotten are the Generation Z, aged 16 to 22. These youngsters are not to be looked down upon, where 33 percent of them would even buy them for gifts and 19 percent of them are regular buyers, coming second to millennials and the baby boomers. Imagine how much they would eventually add up to those numbers when they’re already contributing that much while probably still using their parents money.

What does this all add up to? It’d be wrong for luxury brands to think that their baby boomer customers are top of the priority, which eventually calls for a response. That would mean adopting to street wear values and probably do some collaborations here and there, choosing younger and more relevant brand ambassadors, a more immersive and relationship-oriented approach on social media, and so on so forth. But the ultimate move would be getting your ace of spade, multi-talented, and relevant to the youth creative director …like Virgil Abloh.

The Modern Day Creative Director

Ever since his appointment as Louis Vuitton’s menswear creative director, Virgil’s Vuitton debut was already racking up huge amount of sales percentage at a Tokyo Pop Up store in January 2019–that was even before his designs hit LV’s massive store network.

The French luxury giant’s CEO Michael Burke told WWD that they made a fast 30 percent sales the first 48 hours since the pop up store’s opening than their much-hyped collaboration with street wear giants Supreme in 2018. Burke credited the sales to “particularly strong demand for tailored ready-to-wear, mini trunks in white leather and transparent and iridescent weekend bags”, so clearly that wasn’t where Virgil’s true value as LV’s creative director lies.

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While many fashion executives don’t address the issue openly and frankly, it’s an open secret in fashion that the big luxury houses are “no longer truly in the clothes business”. Exane BNP Paribas and fashion consulting firm VR Fashion Luxury Expertise in a joint 2017 research noted that clothes are “hardly profitable” albeit the still main defining part of the fashion business. So what’s the point of it? Calvin Klein’s former CEO Tom Murry once told Business of Fashion that making expensive clothes are the expense big fashion houses are willing to burn so that they can generate an incredible amount of editorial that he believes has a very significant impact on their global brand image.

Before he hit the big stage at Louis Vuitton, Virgil himself has always been a self-made excitement and media coverage generator.

Through Off-White and his other groundbreaking while some argue to be controversial works, the man cemented his name as one of the street wear greats while catching the eye of the world at the same time. He even side hustles as a DJ. With the rise of hip-hop culture & economy, its connection to fashion, as well as the youth’s obsession over it, Virgil Abloh and Louis Vuitton’s partnership made it all the more relevant to the youth.

Virgil shows us the point of being a creative director for a big fashion house today is not only about being the driving design force to mainly generate profit. The job stresses on why creative director and the brand they represent should manifest themselves to Instagram, YouTube, and other young audience-friendly media to generate those impactful coverage that would help both of them–especially the brand–to reach out to potential markets.

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The younger generation of luxury buyers may not yet be the industry’s main source of income until 2025, but it’s hard not to consider their love of social media—especially Instagram, and to invest in them earlier. Virgil knows best that by using his strong bona fide network of young celebrity, especially those in the hip-hop scene, his creative influence would spread like wildfire across Instagram. With many prominent young celebs flashing his works to their millions of followers around the globe, which most of them are the upcoming market.

Social media management start-up Sprout Social records that Instagram has 1.1 billion active users with 64 percent of them were 18-29 years old. Another social media management platform Hootsuite finds that 60 percent of users from their own statistics seek out and discover new products on Instagram, and 75 percent of users take action. These data show that by leading a brand’s creative journey to understand and invest in the youth, as well as their love of posting on Instagram, may well be their best ad board to replace magazine and other conventional media that the fashion industry is so dependent on as their number one gatekeeper.

But this doesn’t go without crediting LVMH itself, for making probably the most genius decision in the history of fashion business. Louis Vuitton took Virgil Abloh just as streetwear, fashion, and luxury have somehow merged at one point and made a huge impact on luxury fashion. With the long standing debate about how those things blur over each other; the notion was to fight against it, or to go with it. Reflecting on their collaboration with Supreme, LV did none of it and instead took streetwear with them and made it luxurious—which other brands would soon follow.

How The Youth Changed Luxury

At its core, luxury is still no different from 20 years ago according to Van Cleef & Arpels Americas President and CEO Alain Bernard. Quoting from Quartz, at a conference held by the French-American Chamber of Commerce (FACC) that “quality and elevated design are still necessities” for any luxury products. But on the other hand, Balenciaga’s Creative Director Demna Gvasalia who found success with streetwear, bluntly told the Financial Times the notion that defies traditional luxury is that younger markets are prioritizing uniqueness over the “traditional markers of high-end craftsmanship” Calvin Klein Inc. CEO Steve Shiffman also added that what matters most is that the products are objects of desire.

Having made a household fashion name to young people through Off-White, Virgil understands that the market shift that he might partake in creating challenges the notion of traditional luxury with the younger generation of buyers’—or the millennials’—state of mind. As the market is nearing an undeniable shift to a younger generation, the industry had no choice but to give in to the demands of younger luxury consumers which are more diverse and with potentially different value of luxury from its predecessors. Luxury auction house Paddle8 cofounder Alexander Gilkes told the New York Times that the younger generation of luxury buyer is also demanding a luxury that is “inclusive, honest, and democratic.”

The industry’s answers was making more athletic wear, logo-heavy casual pieces, sneakers and less formal clothing options. LV under Abloh stays a step ahead and opted for a harnesses that some would call bib. These things could not have been considered as luxurious fashion item a few decades ago, especially how odd or even normal they can be compared to their price tag no matter how expensive and well made it is. But the new trend shows just how much of creative designers are demanded to stand out on the fashion world while focusing to stay in line with how the youth sees luxury fashion.

Virgil Abloh with his youth-oriented mind and creative journey realization that could generate media coverage helps any brand introduce and bridge themselves to a younger generation of luxury fashion buyers. Creative directors as such would eventually sustain and even up store traffic as well as profit, and will do much more than to just make clothes.

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