Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
Jaden Smith models Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2023 womenswear in a newly-released commercial, blithely dancing awayin a leather blouse
Jaden Smith in a Louis Vuitton leather halter top. Screen shot: Louis Vuitton/Instagram
We know Jaden Smith dares to dress. For him, there is no gender boundaries when it comes to fashion. To be sure, he doesn’t look like Billy Porter. Mr Smith is less dramatic when it comes to his sartorial choices. But, he is not one whose style is circumscribed by conventions of masculine dress. To him, clothes know gender not, such as the halter top that he wore in the latest Louis Vuitton commercial, just shared by the label on Instagram. According to LV, the 24-year-old “transcends style codes” and “embodies the essence of the collection”. This refers, we assume, to the work of Nicolas Ghesquire. It does not require the taxing of one’s imagination to discern what Mr Smith wore to be from the womenswear line. While we are not quite fans of such a sleeveless blouse, we will say that Mr Smith does not look bad in it. Maybe it’s to do with the leather. Would it be the same if it was in floral silk chiffon?
The halter top is one of those garments that, to us, is associated with a form of rather aggressive sexiness. Many (if they are old enough) also think of Halston, although the halter-neck itself emerged in the ’30s and was usually designed on gowns. A decade later, they were popular in swim and beach wear. And their return in the ’70s, especially for day clothes, sealed the halter neck’s future as a must for warm-weather dressing. The halter top gives prominence to bare shoulders, which could be the silhouette’s infinite appeal. And if it’s tied behind the neck, the top exposes the back, which has its own particular lure. But although the halter neck has mostly been adopted by women, it has a fan base among men too, even—believe you us—Jackie Chan (陈龙). Back in the ’80s, Mr Chan was photographed twice in different white halter tops—one with a high, near-mock-turtle-neck (and a perceivable bare back), the other with a deeply scooped neck. While many do no consider Mr Chan a style icon, there are now those who consider his clothing choices back then “rocking”.
Jaden Smith’s halter top is different from what guys used to wear and have been wearing. It is tented and swings like a baby doll dress. Is that why the ad has been attracting surprisingly nasty comments in LV’s Instagram page, directed solely at the star when there are other models in the commercial too? Mr Smith teamed the top with a pair of straight-legged trousers, and the clunky kicks Archlight, now a version 2. We remember that the original Archlight, released in 2018, was for women; we checked at the store back then, and the helpful salesgirl said “guys are welcome to buy if the size fits.” The latest Archlight, to our surprise, is available in men’s sizes even when it is listed in the brand’s website under Women’s Shoes. LV staffers have often said to us that many men buy the women’s line. We have seen it for ourselves in Tokyo. But does this mean that the men’s collection, soon to be designed by Pharrell Williams, could be cannibalised by the women’s? Or, perhaps this is just spreading the love?
Louis Vuitton waded into a mashup of flat shapes, unusual embellishments, and odd bulks, and they are
Louis Vuitton does not follow a fixed route to where it intends to go with their womenswear, which has worked well in its favour. Each season, the collection looks different from the previous, and indeed, the past. Still, there has always been a numinous quality about them. Nicolas Ghesquière has paved a somewhat erratic path for LV, taking us away from the mundane and the easily-scaled. This season, it’s a similar amble, but one does not encounter familiar characters or see the same scenes. Social media babble post-show asserted that Mr Ghesquière was in defining mode, specifying what “French style” might entail (even when LV has positioned themselves as a global brand). It was not a neat conclusion that he could easily arrive at. As he told the press, a tad anticlimactically, “French style belongs to everyone”. But are there that many who want to own it? Those who have been following his work know that Mr Ghesquière’s approach to design often escapes definition, even adequate or accurate description. If there is one designer who truly marches to his own constantly changing beat, it’s Nicolas Ghesquière.
Musée d’Orsay is the venue of choice for LV’s autumn/winter 2023 season, rather than their much-loved Musée du Louvre, diagonally across the Seine. Once a train station, Musée d’Orsay, on the left bank, is now home to a vast store of 19th century art, particularly the world’s largest collection of Impressionist paintings. Inside the Beaux-Arts building, LV built a runway—a part raised—that mimicked the cobbled streets of Paris. It wound through the audience like a train track in a village town. As the show started, what sounded like outdoor urban sounds, including chatter and birdsong, were picked up. Above this, a verbal introduction of the museum was made, which could have come from an audio guide. Insistent footsteps could be heard as the models walked past. We tried to determine if this was in sync with their purposeful stride; we wondered—in hindsight, foolishly—if tiny microphones were lined along the runway to pick up their tread. There was another perceptible disturbance: flickering and plinking chandeliers and garlanded lights, as if the building was just sputtering to life.
Audio and illuminative distraction aside, the clothes held their own. There were Mr Nicolas Ghesquière’s off-beat silhouettes, but it was what he incorporated within them that was a pull. There are always those who think his shapes are tricky to handle (more than Demna Gvasalia’s?)—perhaps, evidenced by the MediaCorp stars who wore the spring/summer 2023 pieces for the re-show at the Pasir Panjang Power Station last week? Back to Paris, however extreme the shapes, the garments circumscribed by the exaggerated lines composed of parts and details proportionate to the outsized silhouettes. If there was any vestige of French style, Mr Ghesquière certainly warped it. The first look, for example, was a bulgy, pleated, lapel-less blazer worn belted over a open-work dress; it challenged the notion that French girls like a sleek, lean appearance with pronounced shoulders (such as at Saint Laurent?). There was the odd ovoid white collar and suspended tubular sleeves of a dress or the oversized petal sleeves of another that sported one more pair of sleeves that didn’t appear to belong to the main garment. And the pin-striped, sleeveless, V-neck dress with a skirt that looked like a flat isosceles trapezoid.
Illusionary tricks were at play too. Knitted pieces were, in fact, embroidered to look like that. As with other houses, there were treatments of leathers that rendered them appearing less like hides. A leather camel coat was embossed and then printed to make it seem like it was cut from wool. One pinstriped pants—also in leather— was hand-painted and then sequinned in parallel lines. There was almost a couture sensibility in the details (and we’re not just referring to the embroidery), to the extend that we wondered how the finished garments could be offered at retail without astronomical pricing. The show closed with Squid Game’s Jung Ho-Yeon in a black and white, floral-embroidered dress, not unlike the petal-sleeved version we described earlier, but sans the additional covering for the arms. Nicolas Ghesquière made sure there would be items in the store that are irresistible, regardless the cost.
Screen shot (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: gotunway.com
Pharrell Williams’s just-announced appointment at Louis Vuitton proves that LV is determined to keep their menswear in the hands of Black non-designers
Pharrell Williams walking the Chanel show in 2016. Photo: Getty Images
These days, to look for a luxury house’s next designer, a brand does not seek candidates at other runway shows, including graduate events at prestigious fashion schools, or among members of fashion design councils around the world. It only needs to consider the Grammy Awards, past and present. Louis Vuitton’s announcement that Pharrell Williams, with 13 Grammys, would be taking over the design reigns at their menswear division—no news outlet did not run a story on that—affirms that the music world, particularly African-American hip-hop, is where designers are waiting to be found. Even if no one could say for sure what exactly has been Mr Williams’s contribution to fashion design, people do remember that he is a singer who’s well-loved by the fashion fraternity and is thought to be a culturally significant influencer. For brands these days, “cultural” positioning, as it appears (or worse, curation), is more important that fashion prominence. We have been told time and again that brands, capturing the youth market, do not need design, only what’s hot.
Pharrell Lanscilo Williams is the second Black non-designer employed by LV (are we allowed to say that without wading into dangerous waters?). Sure, like Virgil Abloh, Mr Williams too has a clothing business at the time of his hire, but that is no affirmation that he is a designer, even if he is a CFDA Fashion Icon awardee. The Happy singer collaborated with Nigo, now at Kenzo, on Billionaire Boys Club (BBC) in 2005 and, later, Ice Cream, two similar lines that primarily offers T-shirts as key merchandise. It is not clear who did (and does) most of the work. Open to speculation, too, is the possibility that it was the Bape founder Nigo, now secure at LVMH’s Kenzo, who recommended Mr Williams the LV role. Nigo had collaborated with Mr Abloh, another chum, at LV. Pals do watch out for one another. The BBC partners have known each other since the mid-2000s. Mr Williams, in fact, is close to more than one person who designs: His wife Helen Lasichanh, too, is known as a fashion designer. Will he welcome her into his team at LV?
In luxury fashion, Mr Williams is very much associated with Chanel, where he is a collaborator and where he debuted as their runway model in the 2016 Métiers d’Art show in Paris, followed a year later by a TVC in the brand’s commercial for the Gabrielle bag—he was the first guy to model Chanel handbags. His employment at LVMH likely means that he would not be associated with Chanel, at least not publicly. But that could be a small price to pay. Chanel could gift him clothes, but they won’t offer him a job. It is not known if Mr Williams is as hungry as Mr Abloh was (or his chum Kanye West) in securing a design job with a European house, but he has been an ardent collaborator, including a pairing with LV in 2008 when he co-designed jewellery and eye-wear under Marc Jacobs’s watch. Sunglasses is his specialty it seems (he is often seen in a sparkly, be-jewelled pair), with an earlier collab (2012) with Moncler, known as Moncler Lunettes. His work with Adidas, as you’ll agree, needs no introduction, nor reminder.
Louis Vuitton was unsurprisingly full of praise in an Instagram post that revealed their newest LV employee. “Pharrell Williams is a visionary whose creative universes expand from music to art, and to fashion – establishing himself as a cultural global icon over the past twenty years,” it rhapsodised. “The way in which he breaks boundaries across the various worlds he explores, aligns with Louis Vuitton’s status as a Cultural Maison, reinforcing its values of innovation, pioneer spirit, and entrepreneurship.” That sounds similar to what the brand said about Virgil Abloh’s appointment. Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton’s Chairman & CEO, said in a statement back in 2018 that Mr Abloh’s “innate creativity and disruptive approach have made him so relevant, not just in the world of fashion but in popular culture today. His sensibility towards luxury and savoir-faire will be instrumental in taking Louis Vuitton’s menswear into the future.” Admittedly it’s premature to say if Mr Williams’s work would generate the manic hype that his predecessor’s did, but it would still, no doubt, be hype that will drive the brand.
Pharrell Williams (right) with Nigo. Photo: Billionaire Boys Club
In the past, most people without solid design experience would not take on a top position at a storied luxury house. Even now few would. Gucci’s new designer Sabato De Sarno, who replaces Alessandro Michele, has a solid CV, with design responsibilities bestowed on him at Prada and Valentino, where he was known as Pierpaolo Piccioli’s right-hand man. Burberry’s newly-installed Daniel Lee made a name for himself at Bottega Veneta, after cutting his teeth at Donna Karan and Céline. But at LV, design cred matter less that the hype the appointment itself would bring. LVMH has a track record of hiring relative novices. Mr Williams was probably confident enough to give it a go as he would be backed by a reputedly well-staffed design studio. Or, what Bernard Arnaud described of the team behind the failed Fenty Maison venture led by the equally rookie, singer-turn-designer Rihanna back in 2018: “talented and multicultural team supported by the group resources.” But even with that supply and support vastness, Rihanna could not make Fenty soar. Even LVMH does not always score a winner.
But the world’s largest luxury conglomerate, posting a record €79 billion in sales in 2022, cannot afford to let their biggest namesake brand slide. The LV men’s division has been undergoing changes with considerable success, certainly since Kim Jones was at the helm (2011—2018), when he introduced a more street-centric sensibility to the brand. This went, many believed, in tandem with the changing profile of the emerging luxury shopper. The hip-hop consumer who buys star-branded merchandise for fans and the rabid fashion consumer had merged. Hypebeasts were gaining influence, sneakers were footwear kings, and hip hop stars wanted to be designers, if not start a label. Luxury was redefined and it had a new selling tool when Supreme met Louis Vuitton in 2017: hype. And it would be in American street and hip hop culture that workable hoopla could be harvested. And who, among the world’s generators of exaggerated attention, attendant culture, good ’ol America? Was it not the best place to find designers? Who will luxury brands ask next? A$AP Rocky? Or Drake?
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.
Kanye West interviewed by Tucker Carlson. Screen shot: motherboardtv/FaceBook
At the end of the Tucker Carlson introduction to his interview with Kanye West, televised on Fox News last week, the anchor asked, “Is West crazy?”. The answer might well be a resounding yes (his purported bipolar disorder aside). But Mr Carlson wanted you to believe otherwise. Many of us, “the enemies of his ideas”, America’s favourite conservative political commentator said, “dismissed West, as they have for years, as mentally ill. Too crazy to take seriously. Look away. Ignore him. He’s a mental patient. There’s nothing to see here.” Did Tucker Carlson know something we did not or only suspected? Is he pro-West, as he appeared to be, calling his interviewee “a highly-paid and celebrated fashion designer”. Perhaps anything less laudatory but more critical would not be honorary to the man lapping it all up before him? Never mind that when Mr Carlson adulates, as he does when it comes to, for example, Vladimir Putin, he makes many cringe.
As it turned out, Kanye West enjoyed the interview so much that he gave Mr Carlson more than the two hours worth of material that made the broadcast. In fact, the desultory session was much longer. And far more revealing and disturbing. According to Vice, its sibling unit Motherboard TV obtained footages of those parts omitted in the final two-parter. Kanye West can’t stop talking—that’s for sure. But he won’t stop talking about Virgil Abloh—that’s just annoying. Or Mr West’s own massive part in the scheme of things—that’s double the annoyance. Since his mind-numbing YZY SZN 9 show in Paris more than a week ago, the rapper-designer has been gabbing that it was he who made possible Mr Abloh’s rise to the fashion firmament. And, in case everyone has just returned from orbiting Mars, that Mr Abloh was his assistant, a mere sidekick, the one who should not have succeeded, but did anyway. What is that supposed to evoke?
And the sour grapes became even more so. Could this be what consumed by jealousy looks like? He couldn’t reiterate what he already said on Instagram (the platform, as well as Twitter restricted him for allegedly anti-Semitic comments); so he took to the French media outlet Clique TV. And just in case the editing there was too heavy-handed, he found the repeating of himself necessary with Tucker Carlson, the eager listener to those who would give him material to match his view that his own voice is being silenced by intolerant liberals. And Mr West would not be suppressed either. So he said again in the un-aired footage Motherboard TV shared, ”Virgil was hired as my assistant” (he also emphasised later that “he got his line [Off-White], but he’s my main employee”) and, in true Trumpian boast, “we did this fashion show that was the… it was the most seen fashion show in history”. We assume he was referring to Yeezy Season 1.
And then the reminder that LVMH wanted to invest in him. As that show was so widely watched, “Bernard Arnault asked to meet with me. And he offered me a deal. But with the deal, they had to have ownership because they are colonisers… All these people, all these VCs and a lot of this type of companies, they have to have a lot of this kind of ownership. And Louis Vuitton have presented themselves in such a way—they have so much real estate, where a Black man’s dream comes true.” Yet, despite their real estate, their supposed interest in him and what he had done till then, and his willingness “to give them the lion’s share”, Mr West said, that “three months later, they dropped the deal at the board.” And then his “best friend” got the position at Louis Vuitton, “which is, aside from Hermès, one of the most prestigious jobs in the world.”
Despite the acknowledgement of the prestige a job at LV confers, it would be amazing that after this, any fashion company would be willing to work with him. Particularly disconcerting was his assertion that “Virgil was actually the third person to die of cancer in that organisation (LVMH)“ without saying how he came to such statistics, as well as “not just Black men have passed in that organisation, but the third person to die of cancer that was in a higher up position in that organisation”. And then he went on to point out that “Paris is a different level of elitism and racism. And Virgil was the kind of guy that—he didn’t hold it in. And I believe it ate him up from inside.” If you are still not convinced, he repeated himself to underscore that point. “The level of racism, elitism and pressure that he was under, I’m sure, affected his health.”
No matter how often he has blurted about the competition—unhealthy enough to deserve echoing—between Mr Abloh and he, repetition is necessary. “At that point, also me and Virgil had a rivalry because he had taken my place in fashion,” Mr West reminded the viewers. Was his place that low that it could be easily scaled or, to him, usurped? And as before, he had to drag Drake’s name in: “He was now Drake to the radio of what he was to fashion. And we had a strained relationship also.” He did not say exactly what caused the strain. But jealousy, as he had pointed out before, was (and still is) likely the root of all that bedeviled him. And then his other Drake, Bernard Arnault, was brought up again. “I felt what Bernard Arnault—not only did he pull on the deal that contributed to me breaking down, and go back on his word with that, he also went on to hire multiple people out of my organisation.” It is hard even for the “king of culture” to find the courage and the confirmation in a career considered crowned. Even when no one cares.
Kanye West admits he ”hated” Virgil Abloh’s designs. Intense brotherly affection?
Kanye West (front) and Virgil Abloh (back) hugged and cried at the end of Mr Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton. Screen shot: travisscott/Instagram
In the latest Instagram posts, following his rambling interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Kanye West hit back at Tremaine Emory (of Supreme and Denim Tears), saying that both of them had no love for the work of the late Virgil Abloh. “I hated Virgil’s designs and you do to [sic]”. It is not clear if Mr West was referring to Off-White or Louis Vuitton. Or, if he detested Mr Abloh’s designs because he didn’t think they were as good as the output of his current fave, Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga (whom he called “THE MOST RELEVANT DESIGNER”) or Riccardo Tisci whose last Burberry show Mr West turned up to support. It is tempting to see his admission concur with the initial thoughts on Mr Abloh’s designs for Off-White (often referred to as an “elevated streetwear brand”, although they did eventually offer “couture”) and later LV. His debut at the French house was met with suspicion—hype aided him, not design. Even after establishing himself as a luxury fashion force to acknowledge, there was still cynicism towards him as an original. In 2020, Walter Van Beirendonck, reacting to designs for the contemporaneous LV show in Shanghai that bore striking similarity to what the Belgian designer put out in 2016, said to the media, “It’s very clear that Virgil Abloh is not a designer. He has no language of his own, no vision. He can’t create something of his own season after season and that is painful.”
Kanye West came to the defence of his friend. He wrote on Twitter, “Virgil can do whatever he wants”, adding “do you know how hard it’s been for us to be recognized?” A struggling or novice creative cannot crib the original work of others, but a recognised designer can, just like a pedestrian can’t ignore the red man at a traffic crossing, but a cyclist can? But now it seems that, while a successful Mr Abloh had the freedom to do as he pleased, what he did was hated. Was Mr West’s support that ardent to begin with? Following the shared-then-deleted flux of IG posts, which Tucker Carlson called “freeform social media posts”, Mr West put out eight screen shots that he referred to as “ABBREVIATED VERSION OF ME AND TREMAINES (sic) CONVERSATION”. Apart from admitting to his intense dislike for Mr Abloh’s designs, he claimed that Mr Emory shared the same sentiment. In previous posts, Mr West had claimed that he hired the latter “because LVMH took Virgil”. Was he saying that he was he left with no one else, but the second best? It is not hard to understand why his followers find his posts gripping stuff.
Designing friends or rivals? From left, Tremaine Emory, Virgil Abloh, Kanye West. Photo: Getty Images
In this fraught triumvirate, Tremaine Emory has worked with both men. He started at Marc Jacobs, where he remained for nine years before being lured by Mr West to serve as the rapper-designer’s creative consultant in 2016 (a position formerly filled by Virgil Abloh) and later became Yeezy’s brand director. He left Yeezy two years after and established his own label Denim Tears, following the formation of the multi-disciplinary creative collective No Vacancy Inn (their T-shirts retailed at Dover Street Market London). Mr Abloh and Mr Emory collaborated on a Levi’s capsule for Denim Tears in 2021. After the LV designer’s death in 2021, Mr Emory was rumoured to be one of those shortlisted to take over at LV (others included A-Cold-Wall*’s Samuel Ross and Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond). He joined Supreme in February this year, where he is the streetwear giant’s first official creative director.
This resume, for the most part, corresponds with what Mr West wrote to Mr Emory in one of the screen shots shared: “We all take jobs at white companies. And wether [sic] we like the fashion or not”, after saying “we as a people have lost the ability to farm ourselves”. Is he suggesting that Black people would not seek employment with the likes of Telfar Clemens? Or is working with White-owned companies, unappealing as it is to Mr West, a Black fate? His current belief is rather ironic, considering that his first fashion job of consequence (certainly for Virgil Abloh) and a choice of his, was that internship with Fendi in Rome. Did he not like the fashion there, even when he reportedly admired Karl Lagerfeld? In an interview with the New York radio station Hot 97 in 2018, Mr West said that it was monotonous: “every day, going to work, walking to work, getting cappuccinos.” Seemingly, there was no work involving design. As he recalled to radio host Charlamagne Tha God, “We couldn’t do anything. We were just happy to have a key card”. Both men were paid US$500 a month, each.
The IG conversations he had with Mr Emory, the designer of the ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirt wrote: “I was jealous of Virgil.” For many it is hardly surprising that Mr West felt that way. He is the “Louis Vuitton don” and this is old-fashioned resentment against someone else enjoying more success than he. Until Mr Abloh’s death, both were friends for about 14 years. They met some time in the mid-2000s through Mr West’s then manager, the Chicago music bigwig John Monopoly. Mr Abloh was working in a print shop at the time and he could do graphic design, and was able to do it well, digitally too. He was introduced to Mr West, who asked him to collaborate almost immediately. As Mr Abloh told GQ in 2019, “more than any title, I was just his assistant creatively” or, in fancier term, “consigliere”, as the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Michael Darling described his position. In 2009, the two men’s fashion adventure began when they managed to secure an internship with Fendi in Rome. In just four years after that, Mr Abloh launched Off-White and in another four, he joined Louis Vuitton. His trajectory would have impressed—or aroused jealousy—in the once-more-famous Mr West.
Happier times: Tremaine Emory and Kanye West in 2018. Photo: BFA
When the new LV designer emerged to take his bow at the end of his debut show for the house in Paris in 2018, Mr West stepped onto the runway, walked towards his friend, and both men hugged, and cried into each other’s shoulder. The rapper was clearly emotional. And possibly burning with jealousy? Once a mere “assistant” and then fellow intern, Virgil Abloh was now basking in the glare of the world’s media and the applause of those whose approval and respect he needed. He had quickly achieved more than what Mr West had desired to, even when both of their design beginnings were largely circumscribed by the ternion of T-shirt, hoodie, and sneakers. Although Yeezy shoes (with Adidas) and the clothing line were already launched in 2015 (and the footwear is hugely successful), Mr West was not quite the lauded designer that his friend with two fashion labels under his watch had managed to become. However hard he tried, fashion folks still did not (won’t) take Kanye West seriously. Unable to score a job with a luxury brand, he took another route—quite the opposite, in fact. In 2020, The Gap announced that they had inked a 10-year deal to create the Yeezy Gap line. Last month, Mr West called off the partnership.
Since then, there were also his troubles with Adidas, which promoted the German brand to “place the partnership under review”. Every Yeezy collaborator seemingly could not understand what their main man desired or what was brewing in his head. This contrasted with Mr Abloh, whose work with LV appeared to have had gone swimmingly well. Even after his death, LV staged repeated, lavish tribute shows. Adidas merely designated a Yeezy Day and apparently without Mr West’s approval, as the guy alleged this year (Yeezy Day has been around since 2019). It is not yet known why Mr West hated Mr Abloh’s designs or—according to Mr Emory—said “Virgil’s designs are a disgrace to the black community infont [sic] of all (his) employees at Yeezy”. Addressing Mr Emory, Mr West wondered why “you and Luka (Sabbat, a model/influencer who walked in Yeezy Season 1) not wearing it head to toe”, as if that is necessary to prove one adores another designer’s work. In a separate IG post, he wrote about Mr Emory, “I took you off the streets… only cause you was the struggle version of Virgil”. Even the folks at The Gap and Adidas knew better than to provoke the wrath of “you can’t manage me” Kanye West. But as he told Tucker Carlson, “If I raise my voice, if I express myself on Instagram, it’s a colonic.”
Update (10 Oct 2023, 13.10):
In his latest broadcast interview—with French media outlet Clique TV—Kanye West revealed that the Louis Vuitton Men’s artistic director position was first proposed to him before Virgil Abloh got the job. “No one knows I’d been offered the deal by Bernard Arnault,” he said. “But three months after that, they dropped the deal”, even after Mr Arnault’s son Alexandre had said that his dad “never goes back on his word”. Mr West also claimed that Mr Abloh only called him to share the good news “two minutes before it hit the Internet”. He reiterated that there was “a lot of pain and jealousy”. It is not known why he chose to reveal this only now. Or, if it’s the self-declared “creative genius”, the “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time” in self-affirmation mode.
Update (10 Oct 2023, 23:00):
Kanye West in a supposed meeting with Adidas execs. Screen shot: Kanye West/Facebook
Temporarily shut out of Instagram and Twitter, Kanye West has taken to Facebook to show a 30-minute docu-promo of sort titled Last Week. One of the clips included was a meeting with executives from Adidas that took place in a blank room. At the start of the clip, Mr West was showing one of the men on his smartphone something that caused the latter to ask, “is that a porn movie?” This meeting appeared to have taken place after his separation from Gap. In the conversation (subtitled!), Mr West made sure, again, that those listening knew exactly who he was: “I’m the king of culture… I have to step up as the king of culture (he called himself that at least four times). You’re face to face, eye to eye with the person who does songs with your father-in-law, with the person who discovered Virgil, with the person who discovered Demna, with the person that placed the creative director at SKIMS”. That’s clearly another predilection: taking credit for everything.
Literally.Louis Vuitton shows size in unexpected ways. And impractical too?
Louis Vuitton closes PFW with a flashy purpose-built set in the Cour Carrée by the French visual artist Philippe Parreno. He and the Hollywood production designer James Chinlund (The Lion King and the upcoming The Batman) have built an installation in the courtyard in the Louvre Palace that looks like a giant rosette made of red sails. Nicholas Ghesquière describes it to the media as “kind of a flower, a carnival flower”. The sheltered runway encircles the strange bloom, with the models emerging from the middle and down a ramp. It is huge and is impressive as a pavilion in a World Expo might be. This is the fanciest set seen in Paris this season, rivalled, conversely, by Balenciaga’s also-artist-created mass (and mess) of mud, both no doubt profoundly costly to set up.
These past fashion weeks, mad as some of the shows were, do not seem to comport with what is happening outside of the annual circus. The UN very recently warned the world that rich nations may spark a global recession with their aggressive monetary policies that “could inflict worse damage than the financial crisis in 2008”. Add to that, the ongoing war in Ukraine, unrelenting inflation, spiking interest rates, and we have the global economy teetering on the brink of recession. And perhaps Louis Vuitton is hinting at how big the downturn might be, even if it is possible luxury labels won’t be that badly affected. Nicholas Ghesquière has not retained the still prevalent upsized silhouettes for LV, as others designers continued to have, but he sure has made large—startlingly and comically—what should normally be discreet: fastenings and hardware.
While Kanye West has declared the omission of zips, buttons, and hardware in his clothes for Yeezy, Mr Ghesquière has gone the opposite way, only that he made sure you won’t miss those zips, buttons, and hardware. What would normally not be noticed are now fasteners begging to be looked at. The buttons are the size of Famous Amos’s soft cookie. The zippers are not hidden (no discreet YKKs!) and come with wide tapes, massive teeth, huge sliders and even larger pull tabs, and as a pair, if they’re two-way fasteners. Little Red Riding Hood would have been duly impressed, and cried out, “What big zippers you have!” And there are those hardware, normally used on bags—these are made chunky too: swivel clips and D-rings, in striking gold no less. Utilitarian turns decorative. But, could a large zipper pull tab under the arm (as seen on a dress with side opening) be comfortable? Forgive our vulgar consideration for comfort. Could these clothes be cleaned in a washing machine without scratching the drum? Forgive our prosaic approach to laundering!
Then there are the blow-up (we think they’re filled with air, rather than down) add-ons that mimic airplane neck pillows, but also found on hips. Or, those framing the neck that look like tubular swim floats (actual ones were used at Moschino). Mr Ghesquière has pulled away from the synthesis of historicism for the paste-up of the usually unromantic components of dressmaking—the trims, and the effect is both quirky and quixotic. Which again magnifies his compositional skill of combining unlikely shapes, pairing uncommon textures, and tweaking unexpected proportions, all within recognisable clothing forms. This season in Paris, two unremarkable garments are poised for posterity—a spray-on dress with the design finesse of anything you’d find in Mango and a T-shirt with a slogan deemed inappropriate and offensive. Despite Nicholas Ghesquière’s notable efforts, his complex and astonishing designs would not top the lasting, viral glory of those two.
Screen shot (top): Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: gorunway.com
Does a Louis Vuitton mahjong tile make a more resounding pong?
Increasingly, luxury brands are offering products that are outside the category of fashion. Home ware comes to mind, such as those at Gucci. But, these days, stuff for leisure or recreational pursuits are covered too. Louis Vuitton is well aware that one of their tai-tai customers’ favourites games as a pastime is mahjong. To these women and their friends a good mahjong set is crucial to the enjoyment of the game. And an expensive one is even better, in comes LV’s mahjong set housed in a monogrammed trunk. Not since the 1950s did the house sell a mahjong set. But unlike the first issue, which was a humble and slim “travel-size” case that held the tiles and such, the latest, some 70 years later, is the epitome of luxury. Everything you need to set up a game is contained in a ‘vanity’ unit, except the table.
Those who own the Hermès mahjong set and table (sold separately!) may not require any intro, but those looking to buy their first luxury majiang taozhuang or wanting to have a different one for rotation, as you would with your sneakers, might wish to know that the Louis Vuitton is housed in a handsome leather-trimmed trunk that can be checked in as luggage, for those times you need to travel with your tiles. Inside, there are six green (a shade reminiscent of the felt top of mahjong tables) compartments (drawers, really) for you to store everything you need. The tiles are made of walnut wood and stone. All these come at a mind-blowing S$89,500. How many rounds of mahjong do you need to win to make that back?
Louis Vuitton ‘Vanity Mahjong’ set is available at selected Louis Vuitton store. Product photo: Louis Vuitton
Seven months after the death of Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton is still in memorial mode. Just as we thought that the recent “spin-off” show in Bangkok would be the last blaring of his name, Virgil Abloh is being honoured, again. This time in Paris, at the Cour Carrée of the Louvre, which sees the courtyard fitted with a massive playground, featuring a really long runway snaking round the fountain in the centre. It that has been described as a kid’s train set, but looks, to us, like one of those water slides in, say, Schlitterbahn in Texas or our very own Wild Wild Wet in Pasir Ris, in a colour that is supposed to allude to the Yellow Brick Road. Mr Abloh had a soft spot for The Wizard of Oz, originally a book by the American author L. Frank Baum before it became the famous 1939 film, whose characters appeared in Mr Abloh’s first collection for Louis Vuitton, back in 2018: Dorothy (Judy Garland as the main character, depicted asleep in a field of poppies on one anorak, we remember), the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Which one was he?
The show, titled Strange Math, opens with an 8-minute long video intro and a performance (described as “rousing” on social media) of a collegiate marching band, Marching 100, from the “historically Black” Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) in Tallahassee. Is this part of a procession of many from the recent Juneteenth celebration in the US that France has probably never seen? Or is this a snippet of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Friend of the late designer, Rapper Kendrick Lamar, wearing a crown of thorns, as Jesus did on his way to the Crucifixion, according to the New Testament, is in attendance to do a live rap-ode throughout the runway presentation. Seated next to Naomi Campbell, who moves to the measured beat, Mr Lamar, performs tracks from his album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, while he intones and repeats, and repeats: “Virgil, how many miles away?” Gone—we are constantly reminded—but not forgotten.
It is such a warm day in Paris—around three in the afternoon (about 28°C, according to AccuWeather)—when the show starts that guests are seen shielding themselves from the strike of the sun or fanning themselves manically. Ms Campbell, a friend of Mr Abloh and LV, even wears her shirt unbuttoned and braless, while holding a portable electric fan. But, you may not have guessed that summer has begun and that LV is showing the spring/summer 2023 collection. What stands out to us is how layered all the looks are, enough to make us, seated in front of the PC (not smartphone!), sweat. True, Mr Abloh loved outerwear and was credited for augmenting the strength of LV’s tailoring by introducing suits, blazers and coats to streetwear staples. But are the seasons in the northern hemisphere so indistinguishable now that warm-weather dressing requires rather bulky layering? Or are the outers perhaps for protection from the heat? A colour-blocked leather jacket with wavy placket is worn over another similar leather outfit (shirt or dress, it is hard to tell), complete with leggings, leg warmers, and high-tops. A tie-dyed overcoat has furry epaulettes and matching belt; the pocket flaps, and the pouches-as-pockets are as flocculent too. A hooded jacket, with a floral surface treatment identical to that on the shirt Ms Campbell has on, appears padded and is teamed with a heavy-looking drawstring/pleated/gathered ankle-length skirt. One embroidered trucker goes over a turtleneck sweater, so is one melton varsity jacket and one leather shirt. A short-sleeved, thick-looking sweater is not styled with arms bare—the model wears opera gloves that appear to be made of leather. Even a short-sleeved shirt is not left to its own devices—it goes on top another!
The collection, we are told, is not designed by Virgil Abloh. The LV studio that had worked with him did it “in his spirit”, and the team, dressed in symbolic black, took the traditional end-of-show bow. The clothes, appear to us, an overzealous attempt at keeping to Mr Abloh’s ethnicity-proud aesthetics: Throw in as many things he would like to see and see what happens. And we are not referring to the usual fancy skirts and gaudy baseball jackets. Or the place-logos-everywhere ardor. Every decorative element they could think of, they employed. From the smallest fancy buttons—floral!—to the visible paper planes on a black suit to the ridiculously large—boom boxes and sirens strapped to the back, like Nepalese porters and their cargo going up Mount Everest. In place of the hanging stuffed toys that Mr Abloh loved in his latter seasons, the clothes are affixed with what could be Indian tota hangings, but they could also be candies in the shapes of LV monogram florals strung together, very much like cords of alphabet beads of the ’90s. If everything appears somewhat juvenile, however “couture-grade” the clothes are, they are in keeping with Mr Abloh’s favour of child’s play “not yet spoiled by societal programming”. As the show comes to an end, Mr Lamar chants “Long Live Virgil”. Is that Louis Vuitton’s plan?
With Louis Vuitton following Victoria’s Secret’s footsteps, now the guys can have theirs too
Louis Vuitton Angel versus Victoria‘s Secret Angel. Photos: Louis Vuitton and Getty Images respectively
When Louis Vuitton’s multi-flap angel wings appeared on the runway back in January, we told ourselves that LV was joking, and happily forgot about them. And then there they were again, in the “spin-off” Bangkok show two days ago. The Thai audience were totally taken by them, recognising the wings’ immensely camp value when they saw it. Some applauded: The show was, after all, appropriately taking place in the City of Angels. There were three sets of the winged outfits. The models did not look happy in them, presumably because they knew they looked ridiculous. They walked as if the flapping appendages were not part of them, and the patterned pennons were simply ridiculous. Were they heavy, we wondered.
(Among the delighted audience, chatter had emerged, prior to the show, that there was “drama mak mak“ with the casting. Non-Thai models were engaged, including some from Singapore, but work permits for them were somehow “forgotten”. The casting team “scrambled”. They had to use inexperienced local models—some of the boys had never walked on a runway before, it was shared. One chap reportedly went for the casting seven times. To make matters worse, five of the models were said to have tested positive for COVID-19 on the day of the show!)
Who‘d thought modern menswear would come to this? Victoria‘s Secret ditched their angel wings and Louis Vuitton picked them up. The lightly fluttering rear flaps left the VS catwalk for good, only it seemed, to decamp for the LV runway. While they were no longer “culturally relevant”, as the brand said last year in response to the nixing of their famed Angels, the wings have become germane to fashion for guys now. Or, is menswear so open to the unconventional that it is receptive to what women have discarded and have considered them to be nothing but the constructs of heterosexual male fantasy?
This time in Bangkok, on the slow-moving models, we did have a closer look at the wings. They looked to us more like 京剧背旗 (jingju beiqi) or the rear flags of Beijing opera costumes. These 旗装 (qizhuang) or flag costumes are usually worn by actors playing the part of military generals. The flags are attached to an armour (or coat of plates) known as the 靠 (kao); they are also called 靠旗 (kaoqi) or armour flags. Seen this way, perhaps the late Virgil Abloh intended for the models to be flagged than winged. And what—indulge us—is more masculine than the striking figure of the 战神 (zhanshen), god of war, 赵子龙 (Zhao Zilong)? Never mind that the Louis Vuitton show was no Beijing opera.
In the Thai capital, Louis Vuitton’s “spin-off” show reminded many in Asia the greatness—and overkill— of the late Virgil Abloh
It did not rain. Fon mai tok! Louis Vuitton was blessed with dry weather in Bangkok this evening. The Thai capital played host to the brand’s “spin-off” of the Virgil Abloh-helmed autumn/winter 2022 collection, The ∞th Field. This is the second full-season LV show in Southeast Asia. The last was the women’s spring/summer 2021 presentation, staged here in March last year, when, to the dismay of LV, it rained, or, to be more precise, it poured. The Bangkok show was a belated one. Last year’s wet SG affair was, reportedly, supposed to have taken place in krungthep, but our island became the substitute when the COVID and political situations in the City of Angels were not conducive to an IRL show of a French luxury brand. So it’s back to tuk-tuk land, where, this evening, the weather was 28 degrees Celsius, but, according to Accuweather, felt like 33. In this heat, but in air-conditioned interiors, the models donned layered winter wear, so did the guests. But, do not tell the local attendees that there is no winter in their country. The Thais will disagree, vehemently.
The show was staged at Icon Siam, the massive shopping complex across the Chaopraya River from downtown Bangkok, and livestreamed from there. Louis Vuitton has a store here, so it it not surprising that the presentation was sited in the building. Some industry observers had hoped that, with LVMH brands showing in far-flung places this past month (read: cruise), a more local audience might lead to a less problematic carbon footprint for the luxury group. Sure, the usual Thai actors (Metawin “Win” Opas-iamkajorn, Mario Maurer and Pakorn “Boy” Chatborirak, who appeared in the just-concluded TV series on Channel U, Barm Ayuttitham [or Eternal]) and model/actresses (Urassaya “Yaya” Sperbund and Araya “Chompoo” Hargate) were there, together with the usual bedecked hi-so fashion event regulars. But a show in Bangkok must at least be a regional event. So stars from neighbouring lands were invited too. Sighted were the Filipino model/influencer LA Aguinaldo and Singaporean show producer Daniel Boey and the Mediacorp artiste Desmond Tan, but it was the recently-out-of-the-army Korean actor Park Bo-gum (of Love in the Moonlight fame) who made the most watched and cheered entry as he was escorted into the show venue, the mall’s cavernous Suralai Hall.
Like most Virgil Abloh presentations of the past years, the show began with a filmic introduction, this time shot in Thailand by filmmaker Sivaroj “Karn” Kongsakul (of the award-winning 2010 feature Eternity). While the presentation unfolded in the gleaming Icon Siam, dubbed “The Pinnacle” of the city, the short (not costumed by LV) was filmed in a beach-side community with a boy lead that regular Bangkokians will likely call baan nok (country folk). While it hints at the obscure—even pretentious—themes of the version that went with the original Paris show (which the brand says “consolidates the eight-season arc Virgil Abloh created for Louis Vuitton), it was oddly grassroots in its delineation of a boy with dreams. Was this deliberately playing up Thailand’s less-developed aspects, no doubt qualities that lure tourists, who the country now desperately needs? An earlier video teaser shared on social media to publicise the show saw gaily-lit tuk-tuks race through the city’s Yaowarat (or Chinatown)—further exoticising Bangok’s old-world appeal?
This was yet another posthumous tribute, just as last year’s Miami show was, and the many more since—protracting his association with the brand without, perhaps, needing to remunerate the man. Similar to the American event (the first on Mr Abloh’s home ground), it was not a total facsimile of what was seen in Paris four months earlier. Mr Abloh, to his fans, has never brought the world unturned to LV. To underscore how upside down he has made of the house, the Louis Dreamhouse², a surprisingly simple abode of the designer’s imagination to accommodate his fantasies, was erected—actually, hung—from the floor, up. Previously, only the gabled red roof was visible. The models walked out (not danced) from a cave-like opening and onto what seemed like some kind of train track (toy?). This show was far more immersive as a visual treat, with its immense set and movable prop, than the show here, where there was truly nothing at the ArtScience Museum to enthrall, except the downpour.
Louis Vuitton announced earlier that the Bangkok show would feature “unseen” looks. Whether these were omitted in the January Paris reveal to be saved for this evening’s presentation, it was not made known. There were supposed to be nine of them, but it was near impossible to know which ones were the hitherto unrevealed among those already shown if one does not have the habit of committing to memory every single piece of an extensively merchandised collection. By now, Mr Abloh’s pastiche of high and low, the frilly and the plain, elegant and sporty, masculine and feminine, costume-y and elemental, Black and not is so familiar that it would be unfair to test the show goers’ power of recall to suss out the previously not shown. The audience seemed more amazed by the angel multi-wings than anything as prosaic as mere clothes. Bangkokians love spectacles on the runway. It is uncertain if the inclusion of these nine not-yet-seen and not-identified looks would make any difference to the impact of the show.
LV’s golden goose Virgil Abloh has a huge fan base and it is understandable that those who adore his work would want to continue to wallow in his prolific output that sometimes flutters rather closely to visual clutter. But how long more will Louis Vuitton keep his name so alive, so in conversations, and definitely so in shows? Six months after his death, he is still so visibly and splashily honoured. If fashion is urgently about the next, why is LV still hanging on to the before? In times of shrinking trend cycles, some of us are truly ready to move on, khob khun, krab.
Additional reporting: Nah Kwamsook. Screen shots: louisvuitton/YouTube
A cruise line without the brand’s most-adored menswear designer. Finally. Is anything missing?
At last, a men’s collection not associated with the late Virgil Abloh. But is it really? The cruise or resort (take your pick) 2023 season is not helmed by a single designer. No one has been selected to fill Mr Abloh’s Air Force 1s—not even rumoured to have. According to press notes that LV shared, the latest collection is “conceived” by the house’s favourite designer. Mr Abloh is known to work way ahead of schedule and for his habit of keeping visual notes on what he would do for upcoming seasons. Still, it is not unreasonable to assume that the LV men’s studio would have exhausted whatever Mr Abloh left behind by now, but apparently there has been enough materials and ideas that could be “carried out by the creative teams and collaborators with whom he continually worked at Louis Vuitton”, so much so that they could even discern a “coming-of-age theme”.
That LV wants Mr Abloh’s name linked to the brand for as long as possible isn’t hard to grasp. Mr Abloh was not only LV’s most successful menswear designer, he was their most popular. Since his death last November, there were not only posthumous shows (three now!) or “memorials”, as some call it; but tributes (including store windows); in-store/pop-up events; and the current Nike X Louis Vuitton Dream Now, a fancy, hologram-aplenty exhibition in Brooklyn, New York. We don’t remember any brand, in recent years, so ardently protracts the legacy and memory of a design employee, not even Chanel, following the death of the more prolific Karl Lagerfeld. Mr Abloh was often compared to Mr Lagerfeld, but it is the Off-White founder that is being so eagerly and extensively memorialised.
This is rather a filler collection, one not only for the in-between season, but also for the rudderless interim. Fashion’s success is presently so tethered to a living name (or one in living memory) that the clothes have to sport more than a trace of the aesthetical cheer raged by individuals of the recent past. Virgil Abloh’s hand may not be in the pieces, but the handwriting is not indistinct. And the styling retains the Blackness that he had introduced and was lauded for. One of Mr Abloh’s talents was his flair with using logograms and such conspicuously, which no doubt delighted his employer. This season, that surfeit of identifiable symbols and text, monograms and the Damier check, is augmented by the late designer’s love of cartoons, font play, and patterns—this time, musical notation. The outright branding exercise allows for minimal design push that might be considered curiosity-arousing (put aside, for now, ground-breaking). This is not the LV resort for women.
Surprisingly, there are so few skirts—just two out of the 43 looks. Mr Abloh had made non-bifurcated bottoms, even if belatedly, key to his brand of forwardness for LV, so their cutback is unexpected. It is not known how many skirts for men are sold to date, or how popular they are, but the reduction in quantity now might indicate that the skirt adoption among their customers may not be as high as their increased presence during Mr Abloh’s tenure suggested. For now, the collaboration with Nike will (in fact, has) be in the spotlight, encouraging frenzy and the very real boom in the resale market. Mr Abloh always did know that bombastic sneakers boost brand bottom line. Louis Vuitton is unlikely to change that.