On An Up

Louis Vuitton, it seems, is not leaving the Virgil Abloh era. Yet

That the late Virgil Abloh left his mark at Louis Vuitton is possibly understating it. So indelible it was and so successful the Abloh years were that LV probably now sees no reason to give their men’s line a major aesthetical shift. Mr Abloh was the guy LV was waiting for, but he left the world too soon. And LV was sure that you feel that too. If you have not, now is not too late. The autumn/winter 2023 show looked like those from the brand’s recent past, or eight of the runway presentations under Mr Abloh’s watch, neighbourhood and not. It preceded with an abstract film (those of us fixed on our screens saw that). The runway was not a linear track. Models walked past mise-en-scènes, amalgamated to be ghetto-fabulous and set up to suggest children’s (or young persons’) rooms. LV said that the collection is “imbued with the spirit of the inner child”, which is consistent with what Mr Abloh famously said, “I’m always trying to prove to my 17-year-old self that I can do creative things I thought weren’t possible.” Was his ghost present?

The show opened with the Spanish singer Rosalia (top)—togged in what could be the brand’s men’s pieces (and curiously carrying a search light when she came out), with hair that looked unwashed (or just washed?)—singing from atop a yellow automobile, it’s doors fitted with boom-box speakers. A black model was the first to emerge, as it had been with Mr Abloh’s show. Other models followed. They stopped in the rooms that were propped with LV trunks and strewn with stuffed toys (not, unlike in the past, attached to the clothes), fiddled with the miscellany, one was rummaging through clothes, another was scribbling on a wall, a pair played darts. It was stagey, contrived, but what that all really meant was not clear. It is reminiscent of Mr Abloh’s performative masculinity; it is inclusive, of course, and the Black-Americana is unmistakable. At times, we had to remind ourselves that we were watching the presentation of a French brand, shown in Paris.

The Abloh-ness is not tempered even with a new name presently linked to the collection: Colm Dillane, an LVMH prize finalist (2021) and the fellow behind the US streetwear label KidSuper (which was also showing in Paris). According to LV’s PR-speak, Mr Dillane was “embedded” in the menswear studio recently as—what everyone else called—a “guest designer”. Whether that was a temporary arrangement or preface to a permanent one, clear it was not (LV has yet to name a successor to Mr Abloh). The half Irish/half Spanish American knew he had large boots to fill and went about doing it without changing the metaphoric footwear—he kept the Abloh razzle-dazzle, showing largely roomy clothes with exaggerated silhouettes, immaculately tailored, faced with the mantle of streetwear, but without the cloak of design laziness. Mr Abloh had created a massive fan base. There was no reason for Mr Dillane to not cater to that. These were clothes—largely for play or to go on stage in—that would sit comfortably in a wardrobe already brimming with Mr Abloh’s LV RTW.

What struck us about the collection was the total lack of skirts. Did Virgil Abloh’s many versions not sell? And would LV be omitting the skirt from their offerings for men, totally? Mr Dillane did not push a gender-bending agenda; he took a more conventional route, putting out tailored-but-with-a-twist (some literally) looks or jackets made more interesting by adding zips to front seams and rear vents. The more unconventional details are the criss-crossed straps on a jacket that could be used to secure envelopes, notes and such. Talking about notes, one suit was festooned with pieces of oblong fabrics that looked like a random composition of written notes, such as those of Post-Its (but much larger) on a cork board. There were also graphics that were rather akin to those of KidSuper: patchwork leather that appeared like camouflage but showed a face, much like composite photography; large repeated patterns of blurred apples accompanied by text across the torso: “Fantastic Imagination”; and collage-y illustrations that would make Mr Abloh proud. But none more so than yet another reimagining of the Keepall, a bag that has been rejuvenated more times than any other in the LV collection. Even in death, Virgil Abloh was still gaily smiling on Louis Vuitton.

Screen grab and photos: Louis Vuitton