Virgil Abloh is in the midst of signing a deal with Versace to be its next creative director, according to two sources close to the designer.
It’s a match that would make good fashion sense: Abloh, the ambitious young designer behind Off-White whose star has risen quickly over the last few years, is known for an edgy, urban sportswear aesthetic that has crept into Versace’s latest collections. That look has been especially apparent in former creative director Donatella Versace’s final few shows for the house this past year, which featured oversized bomber jackets, logo-covered separates and fancy hoodies. Her recent return to the brand’s vintage medusa and Barocco prints also evokes Abloh’s fondness for nostalgia: Princess Diana’s wardrobe inspired his upcoming spring/summer 2018 collection.
Coincidentally, the princess was a close friend of Versace founder Gianni Versace and a longtime fan of the brand — often wearing its clothes out at night and famed for wearing one of its embellished dresses on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in November of 1997.
Abloh, who is also Kanye West’s creative director, has been very transparent about his wish to take over a luxury house, reiterating that goal to WWD in February when rumors swirled that he would fill Riccardo Tisci’s post at Givenchy. That partnership never happened. There were industry murmurs that Tisci was in talks to join Versace, but that didn’t occur, either.
The aforementioned sources close to Abloh said that, while Tisci was originally slated to take Donatella’s place, his wish to wipe the brand clean of her name and replace it with his own (i.e., “Versace by Riccardo Tisci”) rubbed her the wrong way and ultimately soured the deal.
Abloh or Versace did not respond to requests for comment.
As writer Greg Foley pointed out on Highsnobiety this week in a piece titled “Forget Nike, Virgil Abloh Should Be Leading a Fashion House,” Abloh’s already got plenty of experience working with big brands.
While his comrade Kanye West ultimately split with Nike when it refused to give him endless creative control, Abloh has happily collaborated with the sneaker brand on its terms, using its classic designs as the base for more surface-level experimentation. He’s also teamed up with InStyle magazine on a series of T-shirts celebrating its relaunch under editor-in-chief Laura Brown — a move that mainly benefited the publisher, not Off-White. That ability to play nicely with others may make him an ideal fit for a luxury house, where you’re expected to work within certain historical confines, wrote Foley.
Abloh’s anti-establishment standing could provide Versace with the jolt of relevancy (especially among younger consumers) the brand is looking for. “It makes sense for Versace, or just about any other high-end fashion brand, to bring Abloh in,” said Ana Andjelic, a strategist who works with modern luxury brands. “With Demna Gvasalia and Alessandro Michele so successfully and profitably modernizing Balenciaga and Gucci, respectively, other luxury fashion houses are looking on and saying, ‘We want to do the same thing.’”
Indeed, although Versace reported a sales increase in 2016, up to $736 million from $709.5 million the year before, the company likely wants to see stronger returns as it continues to work toward an IPO that has been in the works since 2014.
Abloh will certainly have ideas about what direction the brand should take to get there.
“The one thing that I think the luxury market needs to understand is that culture has changed,” Abloh told WWD last year. “This should be in bold writing — that luxury by a 17-year-old’s standard is completely different than his parents. His version of luxury is streetwear.”
Photo via GQ