Event Honoring Late Designer Virgil Abloh Focuses on Diversity

  • A Harlem’s Fashion Row event showcased creatives and designers of color.
  • The event honored the late Virgil Abloh, who served as the first Black creative director at LVMH.
  • The show was one of several efforts LVMH is pursuing to increase diversity in fashion.

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton honored the legacy of Virgil Abloh, the visionary who served as the French luxury giant’s first Black creative director, with an event during the 15th annual show for Harlem’s Fashion Row.

Harlem’s Fashion Row, which supports and features work by Black and Latino designers, had models of all backgrounds on the runway walking to a mix of classical music and hip-hop. Black and Latino fashionistas mingled by the red carpet and sipped glasses filled with Chandon.

For an evening, creatives of color took center stage, receiving credit for their outsize influence on global fashion. As a white woman, I couldn’t fully grasp the significance of the night. But I was glad to be a witness of it.

The Harlem’s Fashion Row show is one of recent steps by LVMH to become more diverse and inclusive.

For Alencia Lewis, an African American model featured in the show, the partnership between LVMH and Harlem’s Fashion Row marked an important moment for the industry.

“For me to be here, this is me pushing forward the vision Virgil had for fashion, which was more diversity,” Lewis said of Abloh, who died in November.

LVMH, home to Louis Vuitton, Moët Hennessy, Tiffany & Co., and Sephora, was the event’s title sponsor. The company has promised to push for change in an industry not known for its diversity in leadership ranks, starting with more partnerships with designers of color.

Black creatives and fashionistas of color are cautiously optimistic, saying LVMH could set a new standard for an industry that’s long had a problem with diversity.

“I want to see consistency throughout the year,” Lewis, 29, said. “I want to see Asian, Latino, Black, African creatives shown in everything, in all of your advertising and shows throughout the year. At the end of the day, this is a global brand. People look different, and they deserve to have that representation.”

Honoring Abloh means increasing diversity in all ranks 

Despite LVMH’s recent efforts around diversity, there’s more to be done, four Black creatives at the event told Insider.

“I definitely think big brands investing in Black creatives like they are now is overdue,” said Chimere Ingram, an African American designer whose brand, ByIdol, was featured at the event. “At the same time, it’s a great thing how they’re seeing how much we have creatively.”

Indeed, Black and Latino people have spearheaded many fashion trends that large brands have capitalized on, be it hoop earrings, long nails, or rap music.

“Many have built their brands on our culture, whether it’s African culture or hip-hop culture. Now we’re being recognized for our work,” Ingram, 42, added. “We need this recognition to continue. We need to be seen.”

Jen Evans, a 21-year-old content creator, agreed.

“This is game-changing to be celebrating Virgil’s legacy. Growing up, I didn’t see many people of my skin tone or people who looked like me in the industry, so tonight means everything to me,” said Evans, who is Black.

“For LVMH to be here right now, that’s them starting a whole movement for themselves and for other big brands around the world,” she added.

LVMH’s diversity journey is far from done

The luxury brand recently committed to mentoring 75 designers of color, investing in historically Black colleges and universities, and working with nonprofits like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

For more than a decade, LVMH has provided 1,500 middle school students in France with internship opportunities each year. Many of these students are African immigrants from marginalized backgrounds. And starting in 2008, the company began working with an independent diversity firm to audit its recruitment practices to help ensure hiring managers are not biased or discriminatory.

The brand also made waves with its announcement of Abloh’s leadership in 2018, and its partnership with Rihanna for her Fenty fashion line in 2019. (Rihanna and LVMH have agreed to put their Fenty fashion collaboration on hold, less than two years after the launch.)

Yet for all of LMVH’s work to promote diversity, and despite having a diverse workforce, its top leadership remains overwhelmingly white.

It’s a problem of which the brand’s leadership is aware.

“We want to have diverse leadership teams at all of our brands that reflect the world that we live in, the customers that we serve, and the employees that work for us,” Gena Smith, the chief human-resources officer at LVMH, said. “It’s about starting with the objective, having very key actions that you hold yourself accountable to, and communicating where you are.”

The luxury conglomerate said in early 2021 that it planned to have people of color in senior leadership positions reach 30% within five years. So far, LVMH is on track to reach its goal, according to executives.

People of color now compromise more than 30% of leadership positions from vice president and up in North America, according to Corey Smith, LVMH’s head of diversity and inclusion. The company has its sights on diversifying the C-suite next, he said.

“This isn’t just about tonight,” Smith, who is Black and Latino, said. “It’s about how we partner with entities like Harlem’s Fashion Row to really expose creatives to what it takes to operate in this industry. But it’s also two directional. We get exposure, and we’re understanding their needs as well to help them succeed.”

Harlem’s Fashion Row CEO Brandice Daniel said the partnership with LVMH felt intentional and serious in nature.

“To have a brand like LVMH say, ‘We see you. We want to support the next generations of designers,’ means more than I can explain. I think it’s incredible that HFR and Black designers in general are getting this kind of support,” Daniel, who is Black, said, referring to Harlem’s Fashion Row. “This is what we’ve dreamt of getting for years.”

TrendsCHK is formed by a group of editors of different ages, ethnicities and countries that seek every day to bring relevant information about fashion, beauty, behavior, experiences, news, technology, finance, travel and wellness.

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