Virgil Abloh’s second collection for Louis Vuitton affirms that black/hip-hop aesthetic is here to stay
It’s not only a street thing; its’s a black thing. And the street is not any one of them in the 7th or 8th arrondisement of Paris, but possibly somewhere in East Harlem. Louis Vuitton’s setting for the latest collection left no doubt as to which street culture it is paying homage to. Virgil Abloh may have earlier said that the collection would be inspired by Michael Jackson, but the gloved one enjoyed only hints. Yet, it is not a murky patina that Mr Abloh’s sophomore outing for LV is an expression of blackness.
This, to be sure, is not entirely about race. It is a cultural thing, an assertion of self, the visual preference of an increasingly visible group of people. Mr Abloh is going all the way with putting black aesthetic sensibility not just centre, but the entire length of the catwalk. The audience faced a section of a neighbourhood Mr Abloh may be familiar with, complete with a closed-for-the-day barber shop (from which he will later emerge to take his bow), but not, perhaps, for many of the attendees. Towards the end of the presentation, flags of different nations (apparently to reflect the nationalities of his design team) were attached haphazardly on bags and appeared as patchwork (print?) on outers and a skirt, but while they may sing We are the World, they offer little to score the plurality that Mr Abloh appears to propose. This is, and perhaps even more a black collection than his debut last year.
Follow-ups are never easy. To be fair, this was more amiable than the first, a confident stride forward, but do skirts for men, even if pleated and of uneven hem, offer the difference that would make us gasp, whether in disgust or delight? This is our problem, if we can call it that, with the collection: it is not devastatingly good nor horribly bad. It straddles the banks of trying to be elegant on one side and maintaining street cred on the other. A pastiche of ideas put together to delight Mr Abloh’s circle of friends, the hip-hop moguls and artistes that support him, the bros of the ‘hood. Not to mention those sneakerheads who need shoes with parts identified in bold font. But this isn’t the hybrid styles that Japanese designers such as Kolor’s Jinichi Abe do so well. This is Fenty for men.
Admittedly, we have not entirely digested the onslaught of street wear into luxury fashion. And the continued push for tailoring at other houses—including, unmistakably, at LV and the LVMH-owned Dior—may be indication that the backlash is nigh. Yet, street style isn’t going away, not any time soon. Off-White and its ilk have set the ground work, LV is merely following, even if the brand’s two-season old designer is he pied piper. Mr Aboh is perhaps succeeding when Kanye West has not. Who remembers Yeezy now?
There have, of course, been all-round rave for Mr Abloh’s work at LV, but we do wonder if it’s because this is the first time a black man is putting together (we resist the use of ‘design’ for the time being) a collection the way he does. Shades of Issey Miyake and Raf Simons aside, the aesthetical approach has not, as far as we can remember, been output by a black designer, particularly an American with deep ties to the country’s black cultural rise. There is no discriminatory intent here. Mr Abloh is expressing himself as a black man. And if the successes of Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond and born-againer Dapper Dan are any indication, black aesthetical vision, even if tempered by the styles of the ’80s/’90s avant-garde, is no mirage on the horizon.
Americana is alive too in this collection, but not in the same vein as Raf Simons’s interpretation for Calvin Klein that could be one of the many reasons his relationship with the brand’s owners, PVH Corp, had come to an end. Mr Abloh’s take is more inner city than cowboy country, more hip-hop charts than B-grade movies, more Jean-Michel Basquiat than Andy Warhol. This is American style infiltrating French fashion that former LV employee Marc Jacobs did not quite as successfully launch. And, it looks set to stay.
Photos: (top} Louis Vuitton/YouTube, (runway) vogue.com