Since 2018, Mr. Abloh, 39, has been the lead men’s wear designer for Louis Vuitton, the flagship brand of LVMH. He has one of the most powerful jobs in the industry, and his tenure has been successful. “He’s standing at the pinnacle, and therefore he casts a long shadow, and he’s a target for everyone,” said Susan Scafidi, the president of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School.
Mr. Abloh, one of the first Black men to lead a global luxury brand, has degrees in civil engineering and architecture and a background in streetwear, including his own brands, Off-White and Pyrex Vision, and as creative director of Mr. West’s company Donda. “There is a little bit of snobbery about the fact that Virgil didn’t train as a designer and ‘pay his dues’ to the industry in that way,” Ms. Scafidi said.
Mr. West has long claimed that the fashion industry was racially biased against him. He seemed to be referring to this same dynamic in his defense of Mr. Abloh, by accusing Mr. Van Beirendonck of using plagiarism claims as a way of gate-keeping the fashion industry.
“It’s not just, ‘My design was copied,’ it’s, ‘That guy isn’t a designer,’” said Ms. Scafidi, characterizing Mr. Van Beirendonck’s claims.
Mr. Abloh has long been a lightning rod for pointed conversations about originality. In 2017, one of his fashion heroes, the Belgian designer Raf Simons, told GQ that he wasn’t excited by Mr. Abloh’s work because he is, rather, “inspired by people who bring something that I think has not been seen, that is original.”
A month later, Mr. Abloh presented an Off-White collection titled “Nothing New,” widely interpreted as a response to Mr. Simons. Printing unattributed phrases in quotation marks on clothing is one of Mr. Abloh’s signatures, a cheeky nod to ideas of reference and authorship.