VIRGIL ABLOH x LOUIS VUITTONJul 26 , 2021
Due to good fortune, I was in the right place at the right time and scored an invitation to the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2019 fashion show in Paris – featuring the first collection by Virgil Abloh as creative director. However polarising the views on Abloh’s appointment, it speaks volumes about the current state of the fashion industry. The show itself can, in my opinion, only be described as a runaway success, with a distinctive uplifting atmosphere of diversity and inclusivity.
The rainbow coloured runway set up in the Parisian Jardin Du Palais Royal, along with the guest’s colourful t-shirts given at the entrance, matching the sections, seemingly symbolised a spectrum of beauty. Whether denoting pride surrounding culture, race or sexuality is not explicitly discussed, but I would assume all of the above. The cast showcased men of all backgrounds and the show programmes even featured the models’ birthplaces and that of their parents on a world map – almost every country held a marker. This approach contrasts drastically with the historically elitist nature of luxury fashion, and French maisons in particular. Virgil Abloh is Louis Vuitton’s first ever black creative director, and one of only a handful in the entire luxury fashion sphere. The time for classism and exclusivity is over, as Abloh’s very appointment suggests.
Besides the usual crowd of celebrity and media invitees (some of the big names included Bella Hadid, Rihanna, Kylie Jenner, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West – Abloh’s long time creative collaborator and arguably the reason for his fame), Abloh decided to open the invitation up to a limited number of fashion students in Paris, which is how I received my own invitation. This move democratised the show to great extent when compared to previous Louis Vuitton shows – known to be some of the most difficult to get an invitation to, and even further drew the younger generation into the fashion conversation.
Make no mistake, Louis Vuitton is not in the business of good causes, they are in the business of making money, and Abloh’s very presence is driven by his ability to commoditise social issues, and at times even his own persona as an African-American, street style designer with no formal training showing in Paris. Thus, I feel it necessary to point out that in this social climate diversity sells, and even though Abloh would previously be excluded from a brand like Vuitton, his own success and message has been so successful that now, Louis Vuitton is now hoping to capitalise on this. And so the system of oppression is at once uplifting diversity, whilst seeking to commoditise it. This is extremely complex and problematic, but at the very least, could lead to much needed change.
Whether or not it can be considered original, Abloh certainly has a unique approach and a loyal fanbase. The audience at Louis Vuitton was no exception – ready to praise his every move. However, this collection rang true, perhaps since it was coming from Abloh and his team who truly believe in their message, and from what could be seen from his emotional walk down the runway to take his bow, the collection came from a humble and authentic place – as authentic as can be in what can only be described as the most capitalistic of industries.
The clothes themselves found the perfect balance between Abloh’s characterising aesthetic as developed for his own brand, the very hyped Off-White, and the iconography of Louis Vuitton. The classic LV monogram lends itself neatly to Virgil Abloh’s famous Duchamp-like approach wherein he re-appropriates already existing ideas to create something new, and his ever-present “quotation marks”. The colourful collection tapped into the luxury streetwear aesthetic that is so of our time, and perhaps strengthened Louis Vuitton’s somewhat fading relevance in a world that no longer buys into French elitism as they did before.
Despite much speculation on whether or not Abloh was the right choice for an established house like Vuitton, and whether what Abloh does can be considered fashion, the collection and media frenzy speaks for itself and there is no doubt that Louis Vuitton will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Words: Yolanda Senekal
Images: Yanran Xiong & Yolanda Senekal