Men’s – Tourist vs. Purist. Louis Vuitton AW21

You might not be a fan of Virgil Abloh and his copycat practices, but one thing is sure: he delivers substance to Louis Vuitton‘s menswear (which sadly can’t be said of Nicolas Ghesquière’s recent seasons for women…). Abloh’s autumn-winter 2021 line-up seems to be his most personal to date, bringing conversations you would never really see at Vuitton. His sixth collection, named ‘Ebonics,’ came with a film directed by Josh Johnson that was powerfully centered on spoken word and performance, a call to radical thinking through the lens of menswear. Amongst the words delivered by Saul Williams and Kai Isiah Jamal were these: “Deconstruct the narratives… make spaces”; “Take down the walls, unravel the mysteries. Make it up to me.” And: “As Black people, as trans people, as marginalized people, the world is here for our taking, for it takes so much from us.” Abloh has mustered an educational encyclopedia of answers to the ineluctable questions that have been troubling all designers: over the point of fashion, of shows, of making clothes in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement and all the crises that blew up in humanity’s face last year. “We’re still reeling,” he said, in a telephone call with Vogue. “We sat through so many heavy conversations in 2020, some so heated that things can’t be discussed anymore. But fashion can do this. Shows can do this.” Abloh’s belief in clear-eyed boyhood innocence – that grace period before awareness of socio-cultural biases sets in – has always been an inspiration signalled in his Vuitton collections and campaigns. “I start from the wonderment of boys. When you’re a boy there’s one thing that adults ask you: What do you want to be when you grow up? And you say artist, lawyer, doctor, football player, fighter pilot. But then, if I ask what does a doctor look like? There’s a knee-jerk. That’s where we can learn.” His point, spelled out amongst the stack of literature he releases with each collection, is this: “Fashion has the power to de-program these dress codes and impact possibilities.” The multi-level consciousness, and his ambition to educate, include, and create aspiration is down-to-earth in one direction, and high-flown in many others. “Tourist vs. Purist,” the slogan he wrote when he entered Louis Vuitton in 2018 returned on bags this season. “It’s my organizing principle for my point of view when I make things. A tourist is someone who’s eager to learn, who wants to see the Eiffel Tower when they come to Paris. The purist is the person who knows everything about everything.” Abloh exerts his positionality as both – the outsider who became the insider; the man with the power to bring young people with him into the former exclusion zone of high fashion.

There’s lot to unpack, from the Louis Vuitton baggage (some of it in the shape of carrier bags, potato sacks, an LV ‘Keepall’ in the form of a plane) to the symbolic reconfigurations of masculine archetypes, to the challenging of ownership of sources that Abloh built into the clothes. “There are a lot of stories mixing cultures,” he said. “And from that, a new language will be created.” Cool, considered, chic, and flowing with floor-length coats, easy slim tailoring, African draped wraps, kilts, and Western hats – styled by the super-stylist, Ibrahim Kamara – it plainly makes for Abloh’s best collection for the house since he arrived in 2018. And his most autobiographical yet -an exploration of his African heritage and of what it means to be at the pinnacle of a career in Europe as a Black American creative director. “When I grew up, my father wore Kente cloth, with nothing beneath it, to family weddings, funerals, graduations,” he said. “When he went to an American wedding, he wore a suit. I merged those two together, celebrating my Ghanaian culture.” Add LV patterns to the cloth, drape it, then pair and compare it again with tartan checks, and the result is indeed something new. So too, the diagonal green-on-white print on a leather motocross suit. “A memory of the wax print fabric my mom had around the house when I was growing up,” he chuckled. “She was the one who taught me to sew; and she had learned it with a tailor in Ghana.” The collection is a powerful and beautiful statement. Abloh concluded, “I’m an optimist. The future is yet to be decided.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Global. Louis Vuitton AW19

Virgil Abloh‘s second season at men’s Louis Vuitton. I’m not a fan of Abloh’s aesthetic in general, and I never really got the point of Off-White’s hype. But, his work at Vuitton is somewhat ‘profound’. It’s global. But not solely in the sense of more store openings, more celebrities wearing LV (even though those boxes are all checked, of course). The designer looks at the term ‘cultural diversity’ and bravely nods to it in his work. And, while Louis Vuitton is a huge platform, talking about important matters through clothes and events is more than respectful. For autumn-winter 2019, Virgil looked to the late Michael Jackson, setting the scene on a replica of New York street seen in the ‘Billie Jean’ video. Music is always the key for Virgil (who you surely know is also a free-lance DJ). Dev Hynes (!) and Ian Isiah performed new songs. Other than that, there was a live graffiti installation. This wasn’t a stiff fashion show, but a vibrant performance. Models weaved through the ‘street’ wearing flag print, intarsia fur coats and collars, tour-merch-style t-shirts, embellished jumpers and monogram embossed duvet jackets (their super-inflated effect looked impressive in leather). Jackson-inspired beaded, white gloves and jackets appeared as well. There are pieces that will disappear from the shelves immediately (like the over-sized jackets and bold bags) and garments that need more fashion courage (like the multi-layered blazers and pleated skirt-pants). I won’t say it’s a favourite for me, but you definitely can’t ignore this outing.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s / The Big Debuts SS19

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Kate Moss, Lenny Kravitz and Naomi Campbell at Dior.

Just imagine how happy the people at LVMH are now. Both of the maisons they own, Louis Vuitton and Dior, earned such spotlight throughout the last few days that it’s unbelievable how much profit the luxury conglomerate gets in the upcoming months. Two names were on the lips of entire Paris this week: Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones. The first debuted at Vuitton with a more grown-up version of his Off-White, while the latter entered the house with a relevant ode to the founder of the house, Chritian Dior.

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Readers of this site know that I’m on fence with Virgil Abloh and his brand, Off-White. To me, it’s a streetwear label that effortlessly hits the luxury shelf (just like Vetements) and is quite deprived of genuine creativity (at least, speaking of the ready-to-wear stuff seen on the runways). Once it’s all about 90s Helmut Lang covered in prints, then it goes for such ‘of the moment’ trends like tulle. Still, kids love it, adults as well. Maybe it’s the question of aesthetics? I would surely love an Off-White hoodie few years ago, but now I’m into something completely else.

Now, straight to the topic. The Louis Vuitton show had a front row with a capital F: there was Kanye West, the Kardashians, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, just to name a few. The clothes were essentially Virgil, but more de luxe than usually. Neon harness, hoodies under blazers, sporty shorts, lots of new sneakers that will be ‘it’ sooner or later, a bunch of classical LV bags with chain handles. Basically, it’s all the stuff that brands like Louis Vuitton need right now: bold, not-to-deep-in-meaning pieces that the rich, young clientele will want in their lives. The only thing I truly appreciated about the collection was the model casting, that was beautifully, beautifully diverse. Still, in terms of Louis Vuitton fashion, I will cling to Nicolas Ghesquiere’s womenswear.

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In fact, Virgil Abloh is Kim Jones’ successor at Vuitton. Also, in private, they’re friends, so what really surprised me during this Paris fashion week was the lack of striking competition (both of the designers went to each other’s show, how cute!). Kim Jones had similar ways of luring everyone to take a look at his debut: celebrity-filled f-row (from Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Lenny Kravitz to Lily Allen and The xx), a fancy venue (this huge KAWS statue made of real flowers stood in the middle), famous models (like Prince Nikolai of Denmark, who opened the show). But actually, I want to thank Kim for making me look at a Dior show for longer than one minute (I mean, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s womenswear…). And you know what? There was lots to look at. In his collection, the designer paid tribute to Christian Dior, and such Dior predecessors as John Galliano, but in a smart, innovative way.

The dominant colours were signature pale Dior pink and porcelain blue. The toile de jouy created by Victor Grandpierre for Christian’s original boutique in 1947 appeared as the leading fabric for the shirts. Jones as well experimented with suits, nodding to Tailleur Oblique, Dior’s famous, diagonally wrapped ensemble from 1950. And then, my favourite part, there’s the iconic Dior Saddle Bag, now in more safe colours than the ones Galliano did, or converted into wallets (how commerce-wise!). Kim Jones wisely spent the time at the maison‘s archives, coming out with brilliant ideas. It’s also worth noting that he invited Yoon Ahn from Ambush to do the very cool jewellery, as well as Matthew Williams from Alyx to work on the buckles. Jones masterfully blended the past with contemporary, which I like. Maybe it wasn’t my favourite show of the season (even though it had some major highlights), but the newly appointed designer is on a very good path (just as Virgil, who will definitely rule with his LV, whether you love it or loathe it).

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All collages by Edward Kanarecki.

Mr Porter US