Why Virgil at Vuitton Only Begins to Combat Industry Racism
The hire is not a sign of systematic change
Following the news of Virgil Abloh’s appointment to Louis Vuitton, media and fans were quick to highlight the announcement as a step forward for fashion’s race relations — some outlets reported the move as “radical” while others considered the positive implications for the industry. Yet, Abloh’s crown as the third black designer to ever head a French fashion house is more cause for worry than celebration.
The eager desire to fixate on this hire as a sign of progress — with next to no debate on why representation of black creatives in the industry still remains limited — recalls the first time Barack Obama was elected president. Certain corners of the media responded by describing America as “post-racial,” a phrase that was used with increasing irony as events in the country showed it to be anything but. While Abloh’s appointment is in no doubt significant, it highlights the industry’s long-standing inherent racism.
Fashion’s own structure is prey to the systematic racism that dominates society at large, but amplified through the industry’s elitist and exclusionary tendencies. “Generally speaking, blackness and some of its attendant vernaculars of representation have been white-washed, then made highly visible in serving to enhance mainstream fashion styles with a “street” or “urban” or “ghetto (fabulous)” avant garde edgy lefty revolutionary ethnic aesthetic,” explains Laura Harris, Professor in Africana Studies at Pitzer College.