Call it medley or pastiche, there is a lot going on at Louis Vuitton menswear for spring/summer 2022. But their fusion of influences and gimmickry, and a nod to Japan are, at best, pretentious
One white girl wearing a qipao (旗袍) to a prom is cultural appropriation, but a black man wielding a katana (かたな or samurai sword, also 打刀) for no apparent reason is not. Such is our complicated and unbalanced world. Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2022 collection once again explores other earthly divisions and cultures unfamiliar, and Virgil Abloh is the uniter, bringing together differences—aesthetical, visual, racial, ethnical, and sexual. Through his designs, he is “dialoguing” with opposites and is serving as “conduit” between poles, two of many key words he shared with WWD. And the katana? Why did it appear first, after shoes and a skirt? And why did the end featured it? Some online commentators linked it to the kendo demo seen in the second half of the video-show. But in kendo, the participants use a shinai (竹刀 or bamboo sword), not a katana. The katana is considered a symbol of Japan. Its much admired blade is seen as embodiment of what the mysterious samurai stands for: mannered, refined, and if need be, swiftly ferocious. Is Mr Abloh using the katana to cut through the conflicts of the world? Token exorcism!
The show/collection is loaded with so many symbolisms and obscure references and strange body movements that, after just five minutes of an unnecessarily long 16.44-minute video, we’re tired out. Called Amen Break, it is not a recess from the utterance used after a Christian prayer, but a drum break (a short drum solo that is commonly used as a sample loop) from the B-side of the 1969 track Amen, Brother by the soul group, the Winstons. We know not as much about hip-hop music as we should. According to hi-fi specialist Cambridge Audio, this “six important seconds in music” are extremely ”popular amongst producers over the last thirty years”. For the rest of us, listen to Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good for an idea (those who need something more obvious, try The Prodigy’s Firestarter) or the soundtrack of the show. Amen Break is considered one of the most sampled drum beats of modern music, yet, unbeknown to many listeners, the original band never received any royalties for that snatch of percussion, until recently. In a woke society, a debate about copyright in music was aroused, It is clear Mr Abloh, himself a musician, is using this to mirror what is happening in fashion and to ask if its really that bad to ‘sample’ design since the practice of sampling and consequently re-sampling is so widespread and blatant—even appreciated—in music. Similarly, isn’t Black culture just as widely appropriated, wondered Virgil Abloh, now the vanguard of Black-aesthetic globalism?
As with the LV autumn/winter 2021 show, Mr Abloh has created a multi-tableau set-piece with a massive model-cast—in pandemic-is-over close proximity. At times, they are all packed as if in a bus station, even writhing together. It is hard to make out what the stylised movements mean, or the physical nearness to each other. Do they make the clothes look better? Give it some context? We couldn’t tell. But desolation seems to be the preferred state these days. LV, too, chose the same, starting with a rocky grey terrain and then into a mock forest of birch (with canned thunder and strobe-light lightning), and then onto a wood-walled auditorium in which a game of chess is played, oddly undisturbed by people shuffling (and, again, as in a bus station) and a kendo session. According to LV’s own description, the presentation is “an abstract interpretation of the story of artist Lupe Fiasco (the American rapper)” that “depicts a father and son united by an unnamed loss, crossing a dream world to deliver a message to the other side.” Operative word: “abstract”, and it’s so abstract that it is disruptive to the enjoyment of the filmic pitch. The show may be a metaphor for whatever metaphor the world now needs, but if it requires the oft-cited forty-odd-page book (sent to the media) to explain it all, then perhaps there are too many metaphors and symbolisms and the superfluous for one event.
Usually, seasonal collections reflect, well, the seasons. But increasingly they mirror whatever you can glean from the things you see around you and the people you meet. LV’s busy proposals are a lot less summery than what we are used to (as we write this, our news feeds are filled with reports of Russia suffering one of their hottest summers in memory) for a season characterised by heat (even, more and more, in spring). What throws us off track at the start are—seriously—the ear muffs! Or, are they some powder-puffs-as-UV shields that we have yet encountered? And then more to make us sweat: the padded, gambeson-like vests (including a long version and even ones in the form of maxi-skirts), bulky (fake?) fur coats, outers and pants worn as if they are PPEs, puffer jackets with hoodies that look like helmets, the thick layering—sweater (with hoodie pulled up to completely cover the head), top coats, padded vests, and gloves, and the said ear muffs (were they thinking of the South Pole or similar?). And if all that do not make you feel that you might need cold-weather dressing, there is even a suit with images of the Alps and and kindred Alpine splendour!
The lack of lightness for a season associated with airy clothes aside, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to do away with conventional line planning so that off-season items can be included to expand the product offerings and bloat the SKU. Apart from the padded gloves, there are the fluorescent ushanka (the Russian fur cap with ear flaps), the stuffed animals (covered with LV monogram, of course), and the almost-knee-high calf-warming snow boots. Belts are aplenty too, not only leather belts with decorative buckles, but also soft fabric belts (worn tied rather than buckled) that go with many of the outers. Would they be sold individually? And there is no forgetting the many bags you do not yet own (a guitar bag or, better still, a back pack in the shape of a koinobori, the Japanese carp-shaped windsock?). As one product development manager remarks to us, “Virgil Abloh’s doing for LV bags what Marc Jacobs was never able to do during his entire time there.” We look out for the equivalent of last season’s massive aeroplane bag (after failing to spot the city-scape top), but there is nothing as useful to encourage social distancing.
The lightest-looking outfit is a track top and bottom in sheer and somewhat iridescent fabric (worn over an opaque tracksuit, which makes the sum less light!). In fact, the tracksuit—very much associated with rap culture: think Wu-Tang Clan, whose founding member GZA, the “spiritual head”, is featured in the show—are central to the collection. It’s styled with a tailored vest. The high-low pairings (only now, we can’t really call an LV tracksuit low) are characteristic of Mr Abloh’s melding of styles and cultures. Belts, treated like a martial arts obi, are tied around the waist of tailored garments, as if securing one’s kenogi (uniforms worn by kendo competitors), ready for a fight—even vests are similarly tied at the natural waist with a belt. This emphasis on the waist is perhaps consistent with the overall feminising of the aesthetic that Mr Abloh is increasingly adopting for LV now that men, too, can wear whatever they what.
As if targeting Lil Nas X and Billy Porter, the collection boasts a staggering amount of skirts. Even when skirts and dresses for guys are now part of popular culture, are they de rigueur in today’s male wardrobe? To be certain, Mr Abloh has shown skirts before, but not 18 of them in one show. Do men need this many of them to choose from? Even a tiered pouf that women are buying a lot less, or the padded variety? Because if there’s anyone who can make skirts for men mainstream, it’s Virgil Abloh? The feminising includes the scallop edges of a no doubt striking white top coat and a spiffy blazer. Men can now wear tailoring that’s sharp and pretty as well. Perhaps fashion that emerges from the fog of the pandemic is to see who can say something, if not shout the loudest. Mr Abloh’s LV (now in its seventh collection, as hinted on the banner of the kendo match ground that reads in kanji, “第七回国際発表大会 or 7th International Presentation Tournament”) is a visual rojak of checks, stripes, tie-dye, colour gradation, image-less jig-saw, decal disorder, Slender Man, and (what appears to be) photo prints. These and the staggering jumble of garments may show that the LV atelier is truly able, but what’s Mr Abloh, in the end, really trying to proof?
Screen grabs and photos: Louis Vuitton