Few positions in fashion wield the same level of cultural influence as Louis Vuitton’s Creative Director. Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, Kim Jones, Virgil Abloh. Only the most renowned, revolutionary designers have been privileged to lead artistic direction within the French fashion house. After being appointed the creative director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear line earlier this year, American producer and artist Pharell Williams is joining an exclusive club with big shoes to fill
Marc Jacobs joined Louis Vuitton in 1997 as the brand’s first Creative Director and pioneered its expansion into men’s and women’s ready-to-wear fashion – a daring departure from the fashion house’s traditional focus on luggage and travel goods. Significantly, he did not abandon the Monogram Canvas that Louis Vuitton specialized in. Specifically, of all Entrupy Verified merchandise from the Jacobs era (between 97-2014), 56% were made of monogram canvas. A Louis Vuitton creative director did not need to abandon every aspect of tradition to succeed.
Instead, Jacobs set Louis Vuitton apart by embracing the multi-faceted nature of creative expression and developing relationships between the brand and artists, designers, and pop culture icons. A new generation of luxury shoppers was drawn to Louis Vuitton, attracted by Jacob’s innovative perspective. His impact was not solely cultural. Jacobs also quadrupled Louis Vuitton’s profits.
While Jacobs retained ultimate artistic control over Louis Vuitton womenswear throughout his time at the company, Paul Helbers (2006-2011) and Kim Jones (2011-2013) helmed Louis Vuitton’s menswear – reporting to Jacobs until he departed the brand. In 2013, with Jacobs leaving to focus on his namesake fashion brand, Jones was granted artistic ownership over the brand’s menswear lines. In womenswear, Jacobs was replaced by the man who revolutionized Balenciaga – French-Belgian designer Nicolas Ghesquière. Like Jacobs before him, Ghesquière understood the intertwined relationship between fashion and pop culture. Expanding beyond traditional Western references, Ghesquière recognized the beauty and significance of the Asian market. Playing off of anime aesthetics and paying tribute to traditional Japanese silhouettes, Ghesquière brought the brand a new and uniquely inspired dimension.
In menswear, Jones was also an admirer of Japanese culture – specifically the intersection between street-wear and high-fashion materials that had defined the country’s ready-to-wear industry for decades. With that aesthetic in mind, Jones endeavored to make Louis Vuitton’s clothes
street-ready and cool. Collaborating with established streetwear labels such as Fragment Design and Supreme, Louis Vuitton expanded their core demographic base to include shoppers from 16-year-olds to over-60-year-olds. Representative of the boundary-pushing, the number of authentications with non-traditional fabrics (classified by Entrupy as “other”) as a percentage of the total number of authentication in a given era is 50% greater in the Jones era compared to the Jacobs era. Jones left Louis Vuitton in 2018 for a position at Burberry, but his embrace of streetwear paved the way for arguably the most influential luxury streetwear designer of this era to replace him.
Virgil Abloh was unparalleled. He was an architect, an engineer, a DJ, a musician, a fashion designer – a true artist. He was a living manifestation of the idea that the only prerequisite for fashion should be a vision and tore down the notion that a privileged background and formal training were required for industry success. At Louis Vuitton, Abloh embraced color and reimagined traditional silhouettes to match the luxury streetwear aesthetic the brand had come to champion. He called it “Maintainamorphosis”: the principle that old ideas should be instilled with value and presented in tandem with new ideas because both have equal worth. Louis Vuitton handbags debuted in 2019 and 2020 – the middle of Abloh’s time at the company – represent 12% of all Louis Vuitton bags that Entrupy has authenticated. Counterfeiters also target this era. Over 20% of all the Louis Vuitton bags that Entrupy has rendered unidentifiable were from 2019 or 2020.
Abloh passed away in 2021 after a hard-fought battle with cancer but will be remembered in
cultural history as a trailblazer and a revolutionary.
This year, the world watched as Pharell Williams launched his proposal for the future direction of Louis Vuitton on Pont Neuf under the June sunset. Based on his personal style and designed to honor Black culture’s contribution to fashion, the show’s spectacle and confidence garnered widespread praise among casual fashion enthusiasts; however, some fashion commentators noted that creating such a talked about cultural moment may have overshadowed the collection itself. Critics questioned whether the collection represented a truly new perspective and doubted Williams’s ability to recreate equivalent extravagance in future cycles. As Williams settles into his niche at Louis Vuitton, the fashion world waits with bated breath to see what will come next. Will he continue fabric experimentation and continue the growth of “other” fabrics; 30% of handbags authenticated in 2022 had fabric that could not be traditionally classified. Or, will Williams lean on tradition and revert to the Monogram bag that has consistently been the most commonly authenticated fabric? The precedence set by creative directors before him suggests that prediction is dangerous and that the sky is the limit.