What if Ye took over menswear at Louis Vuitton?

As rumours swirl about possible replacements for the late Virgil Abloh, here's a look at what it might mean for the house if the rapper and designer took over

Rumours are swirling that Ye, the rapper and designer formerly known as Kanye West, could take over his late friend Virgil Abloh's role at Louis Vuitton. AP

As the fashion industry struggles to come to terms with the premature death of Virgil Abloh, the Ghanaian-American designer who headed up menswear at Louis Vuitton, the rumours are already swirling about who might be in the running to take over the role.

Such speculations are normal at this point, usually with a number of names fluttering around. Interestingly, however, this time only one name is being mentioned: Ye, the artist formally known as Kanye West.

While nothing more than rumour so far, this is little more than conjecture with both Louis Vuitton and parent company LVMH staying silent on the matter. However, if Louis Vuitton does decide to name Ye as Abloh's successor, there are a few factors that work against the rapper.

The argument against Ye

Firstly, Ye has no high-level experience of running a fashion house, with both his attempts, Pastelle and Yeezy clothing, both quietly disappearing from sight, although his Yeezy sneaker brand still does roaring business for him and brand partner adidas.

Ye's much-discussed eccentricity is another question mark. With fashion such a result-driven industry, there is less space for undisciplined characters. Likewise, Ye is well known for his disregard for deadlines, as shown during the often-delayed releases of his albums – the latest example being that of his 10th album Donda. With a tight schedule to maintain, and a rigid timetable of collections to follow, there is no time for pause in fashion.

Famed designer Virgil Abloh died on November 28 from cancer. Reuters

Why Ye could be the one

However, there are also many factors that could work in Ye's favour. While he is known as a rapper, he has extensive industry knowledge, having interned with the Italian house Fendi in 2009, and often surrounds himself with key fashion players. In 2010, Ye asked the designer Phillip Lim to create the wardrobe for his short film, Runaway, and this year, for the Donda listening parties, Ye was able to rope in none other than Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia.

Ye also had Abloh, the man he is now tipped to replace, as his creative director since 2008. The two were close friends and since Abloh's death, Ye has been quoted saying he feels duty-bound to continue his friend's work.

A major part of Ye's success is an uncanny ability to tune into the zeitgeist. He announced the launch of his Yeezy Nike trainers by wearing a pair of prototypes to his 2008 Grammy performance, sparking a frenzy from his designs that continue to this day. Yeezy, now with adidas, is today valued by Forbes at $1.8 billion, thanks largely to West's skill at creating hype around each new launch.

The Yeezy x Gap hoodie sold out in seconds via pre-orders. Photo: Gap

While much of Abloh's success at Louis Vuitton is down to the cult of celebrity, with customers eager to snap up anything by the designer, Ye has turned it into an art form. Credited with helping to transform his ex-wife Kim Kardashian's career from a reality TV star into a bona fide fashion heavyweight, in June 2020, Ye signed a billion-dollar deal with clothing brand Gap, called Yeezy Gap, for which he will rework the clothing offering, and that will net him royalties on sale.

To date, the collaboration has only released two items: a "round" jacket that sold out in seconds via pre-orders, and a hoodie. Yet, thanks largely to this deal, Ye's personal fortune is thought to be worth upwards of $2 billion, with Bloomberg staking it as high as $6.8b.

In contrast, Abloh's own label, Off-White, known for extremely expensive streetwear – think $1,000 hoodies, and a pair of trainers with the word "shoelaces" written on them for $700 - coupled with his income at Louis Vuitton, meant Abloh was worth about $20 million at the time of his death.

In 2018, Abloh was named by Time magazine as one of the top 100 influential people in the world. Ye, meanwhile, made the same list two years earlier.

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2016 file photo, Kim Kardashian West, left, and Kanye West arrive at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York. Kanye West has apologized on a Chicago radio station for suggesting slavery was a "choice." (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Also, Ye and Louis Vuitton already have history. In 2008, long before Abloh took over the reins, Ye created the trainers for the menswear show.

So while Ye may seem like an outsider for the house, he has, in so many ways, already proved his commercial pull, and his ability to shift product at an unprecedented scale. He may have little first-hand design experience, but they may not be such a drawback. After all, every house has a full, talented design studio to assist the designer at every step.

What Ye has, and that Abloh had, is credibility – that shifting, undefinable ability to speak to a wide audience. As both Abloh and Ye have already proved, that audience is also prepared to spend heavily to buy into their vision. So while Ye may be chaotic, ungovernable and something of an outlier, perhaps he is precisely the man to continue the work of his friend.

Louis Vuitton took a big gamble by appointing Abloh, making him the first black man to head up a major fashion house. If the company is looking to continue that path, then perhaps Ye, with all his faults, is the man to do it.

Updated: December 12th 2021, 10:59 AM