In the 1990s and 2000s luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci enjoyed their presence on the public pedestal as the status symbols of fashion couture. Yet the luxury brands of years past were unable to connect with the rebellious millennial spirit influenced heavily by hip hop culture. Recently Louis Vuitton hired Ghanaian-American fashion designer and Kanye west muse, Virgil Abloh to be the Director of Men’s Wear and their cultural savant. This is Louis Vuitton’s first African American artistic director, but not a shocking move when looking at the industry at large. The trend began its upswing when classic French fashion house Balmain had a bright idea: hire a brilliant young black man to guide them into the future.
Olivier Rousteing came on board as the creative director for Balmain in 2011 at the young age of 25. He was the first black creative director of a major French fashion house and as such he came on the scene under a degree of scrutiny for both his age and his skin color. Last year, he told LA times, “Sometimes I feel that racism is something that is not obviously obvious in fashion, but you feel it. You have to prove [yourself] more than the others.” He immediately began to modernize both the aesthetic of the brand and the way Balmain communicated with its consumers. His social media presence aka the ‘Balmain Army’ put the brand at the forefront of a younger audience and his vision has gracefully ushered them into a new era of importance, power, and revenue.
After Balmain’s success other fashion giants began to take notice. Most notably Adidas and its partnership with Kanye West, a mentor and collaborator of Virgil. The Adidas partnership no doubt paved the way for Virgil’s position at Louis Vuitton. As Adidas sales began to languish behind perennial favorite Nike, they were searching for a way to better connect with their customer since their shell toed-heyday in the late 80s and early 90s. As they looked to close the more than $10B annual revenue gap between their brand and Nike, the Yeezy line by West became their catalyst for growth. Soon Yeezy’s were ruling the secondary sneaker market that had long been controlled by the resale of Jordans. A telltale sign that Adidas had yet again become culturally relevant.
Even still, when Rousteing, West and Abloh weren’t even in the game, Harlem’s Dapper Dan was defining the boldness that still embodies streetwear to this day. More than 30 years ago Dap began adorning the VIPs of Harlem from rappers to dope-boys and their style defined an era. After quite the hiatus from the limelight, last year Dap, born Daniel Day, was embroiled in a twitter controversy as Gucci’s current creative director Alessandro Michele unveiled a piece very closely mimicking one that Dap made for olympian Diane Dixon. Whereas once upon a time Dap’s store was raided by lawyer’s seizing his equipment, a young Sonia Sotomayor among them, now he is opening a boutique with Gucci in Harlem.
Streetwear has been at the forefront of the fashion conversation for decades. It even took center stage at Louis Vuitton before Virgil’s arrival with their highly successful LV X Supreme collaboration in spring 2017. In reality, these appointments for West at Adidas, Virgil at Louis Vuitton, Rousteing at Balmain and Dapper Dan at Gucci are only news in the fashion industry. For the rest of millennials, this generation has always looked up to musicians and artists for culture and will continue to do so. The blossoming diversity in positions of power is just proof that the consumer does have the final say. The people have spoken and we want culture, not homogenized luxury. This mindset expands beyond the doors of fashion, diversity influences pop culture in outsized ways. Culture molds brands and brands define our world, so diversity makes good business sense.