BTS In An LV Show

On Wednesday evening, the boys appeared in a special Seoul edition of Virgil Abloh’s autumn/winter 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton. This was really one for the Army

By Colin Cheng

Why do you need to show autumn/winter twice? Because you can. And you must finish telling the story. Louis Vuitton was not quite done with their autumn/winter 2021 narrative, so they took it to Seoul to complete it, together with additional 34 new looks. And if you were going to Seoul, you might as well get what CNN called “the biggest boyband in the world to model”, all seven of them. Yes, BTS was the star of the (officially) “spin-off show” and the main draw. The septet was installed as LV’s brand ambassadors just last April, but unlike others similarly appointed, the boys were asked to perform (LV calls it “integrated”) in the fashion show (Blackpink’s Rose didn’t have to strut for Saint Laurent, not yet anyway), and, strangely, a rather static one. And, boring too.

It was quite a rush for me yesterday evening. I was watching the Balenciaga couture show on my smartphone, ensconced in a sofa seat at Starbucks. The show was running late, about 20 minutes or so; it started only after Bella Hadid arrived, tardiness for the world to see. The live streaming of both shows was only 30 minutes apart (5.30pm, our time, for Balenciaga and 6pm for LV), but because Balenciaga was late (and I did want to see the presentation till the last outfit appeared—a beautifully ghostly apparition of a wedding dress), I could not switch to LV. And I do not, as many others seem to be, especially the Pokémon Go-playing ones, carry more than one phone. As my best friend and I WhatsApped, “isn’t this like those days when we had to rush from one show to another, and hopping that the one we were on the way to see had not already started?” When I was finally able to go to LV’s webpage some 15 minutes or so later, the show had already begun, but not by much.

Clockwise from top left: Jimin, RM, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, V, and J-Hope

Directed by South Korean auteur Jeon Go-woon (Microhabitat, 2017), the Yeezy-ish, pseudo performance-art film was set in Bucheon Art Bunker B39, just outside of Seoul. The building was once a complex of incinerators. This time, a different fire was burning, and it was smoldering through seven hot-blooded Korean males. Only the BTS boys were walking through the space (which included one central scaffolding/structure). The rest of the models just stood (or sat) still. Like so many of Virgil Abloh’s recent artsy presentation, this is painfully pretentious. With a small hot-air balloon—emblazoned with the word “Hope”—hovering ominously, I was not sure anything was going hopefully forward. Where were the overly made-up boys going to? Or where they seeking Permission to Dance? Why was V (Kim Tae-hyung) wondering aimlessly with a LV-logo-ed coffee cup?

This collection/presentation is a Black-American embracing Asian sex appeal by way of a French brand. Internationalism and inclusivity have never made such visually striking bedfellows. I am not going to say anything about BTS’s usefulness in all this because, as so many have found out, one never says anything about the boys, even if one is right, as the stans or the BTS Army will wage war against anyone who dares put their biases in any perceived-to-be-negative light. The clothes have a Black aesthetic about them, and for fervent Asian rappers could be amusing, even ideal, to wear. According to LV, “the collection re-appropriates the normal through extreme elevation” and “employs fashion as a tool to change predetermined perceptions of dress codes”. I am not sure any of the BTS boys are such alert thinkers.

Photos: Louis Vuitton

Two Of A Kind: Riddle This!

One green costume is showing up as a bag

The Riddler vs Louis Vuitton

Virgil Abloh is good, very good. He can reference anything, and the results would be lauded and loved. In just one spring/summer 2022 collection, he can go, with considerable ease, from the winner of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design’s unmistakable wrapped-up heads to comic super-villain the Riddler’s distinctive costume with those questions marks against that green. But only now, at the maison of Louis Vuitton, the Riddler’s onesie is still his. Mr Abloh has, without question, taken the question marks (in similar font and in different sizes) and the extreme green, but has turned them into a Keepall Bandoulière! It went almost unnoticed among the many other bags shown if not for the very bright colour and the very black interrogation points.

DC comic fans are familiar with The Riddler (aka Edward Nygma), the computer-genius and former employee of millionaire Bruce Wayne. In the comic, the Riddler was convinced by a prostitute he met in a bus that he could be a super villain! When he first appeared as the Riddler in 1948’s Detective Comics, he was kitted in what was commonly referred to as a unitard—essentially a catsuit. It was green (but not as bright as later versions) and littered all over with questions marks in different sizes. He also wore a purple domino mask that matched a rather wide belt with a squarish buckle. The Riddler’s costume went through several changes through the years. A suit, too, was introduced (so that he’d be better dressed when meeting Mr Wayne?). The onesie was tweaked frequently, some time appearing with one single punctuation mark, right in the middle of the chest.

The unmistakable five-sided side of the Keepall Bandoulière

in 1995’s Batman Forever, the Riddler, played by the inimitable Jim Carrey, wore what was then described as a return to the “original costume”. It was a leotard that Mr Carrey was surprisingly able to pull off well. Costume designers Ingrid Ferrin and Bob Ringwood gave the union suit a rather youthful fit (no doubt still tight), with more question marks, placed in graphically fetching randomness. Mr Carrey’s the Riddler had other costumes too, mainly a jacket (not blazer) in the style of the Stalin tunic (some might think it looks like a Mao suit!) that was also green and floridly logo-ed, but it was the leotard that most movie-goers remember. And it is this outfit that seems to be the inspiration behind the Louis Vuitton bag.

The Keepall is considered one of LV’s most popular weekenders. Introduced in 1930, it has been made in different colours and fabrics, and has enjoyed interpretations by the American brand Supreme and the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Mr Abloh made the Keepall the must-have when his first remake at his debut season with LV was an iridescent version in transparent embossed Monogram PVC, attached with a chunky cable chain. There has been many versions since, but none we can remember that can be traced to what super-villains wear. We can really hear the Riddler questioning: “Riddle me this, Louis Vuitton. Why won’t you leave me ALONE?”

Photos: Warner Bros/DC Comics and Louis Vuitton

Two Of A Kind: Full Head Covering

Hide, hide, hide

Richard Quinn Vs Louis Vuitton

Since his full fashion presentation for autumn/winter 2018, Richard Quinn has obscured his models’ entire heads. Never mind that the Queen of England was seated in the front row (she was there to present him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design) and the models looked like they might mug the unsuspecting attendees. At first, Mr Quinn covered his models heads and faces by cleverly tying a scarf over every inch above the shoulder—rather Cristo for head—and then graduating to full-on custom balaclavas that often matched gloves and leggings. It is his, for a lack of a better word, signature—one look and you know it’s Richard Quinn. But these days, one man’s signature is another man’s hack! Or the beginning of the buzzy discourse on who’s copying who. Or amen-breaking!

For Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2022, Virgil Abloh, too, covered the head of a few of his models. The balaclavas are there as well, but it is the total head covering and the matching gloves that very much raised our eyebrows. Mr Abloh’s presentations for both LV and his own line Off-White have always been watchable for what would be riffed. He has no qualms of being so very clearly inspired, so aroused by the ideas of others. It is very much a part of the hip-hop culture that he grew up in, where sampling and re-sampling across genres among artistes are the norm and widely practised. Why waste a good beat or bass?

Just as one can’t claim ownership to blond hair, so one can go from brunette to flaxen or similar, it is perhaps tempting to say that the head totally enclosed in a scarf belong to no one particular créateur, and, therefore, can be adopted by anyone. But it is disconcerting that Mr Abloh’s shrouded head appeared only recently, long after Mr Quinn made it very much his aesthetic guise, even if he may say his was inspired by the men (面, the protective head guard worn kendo competitors). Or, is Virgil Abloh merely adopting what Pablo Picasso is widely thought to have said and Steve Jobs had delightfully quoted, that “good artists borrow, great artists steal”?

Photos: (left) Richard Quinn and (Right) Louis Vuitton

In Praise Of Excess

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

Jet Bag

The Louis Vuitton Keepall has a new shape. And it’s ridiculous

A new aircraft will land in a Louis Vuitton store near you. And whether it will then take off isn’t certain yet as the big-ticket item is tagged at—fasten your seatbelt—USD39,000. Or, about the cheapest price of a one-way ticket from our island to the city of Tokyo on a private jet. Or, the COE for a Cat A car. People long to travel, we understand. But yearning is one thing, showing your cannot-be-concealed desire to fly (again) amid a pandemic by carrying a bag in the shape of a plane borders on absurd and, frankly, laughable. Louis Vuitton has just announced the availability of the Airplane Bag to order and its staggering price tag (to compare, the “entry-level” Hermès’s Birkin is reported to be USD9,000). When it was shown during the men’s autumn/winter 2021 show, we had thought that it would not go into production, as it could be just a prop—good for runway, not quite on a city sidewalk. But now that we know it can soon be purchased, it would appear that Virgil Abloh can really do anything.

Looking like it belongs to Fluffy Airport, in the company of Gugu and friends, Mr Abloh’s jet bag is consistent with his increased use of cartoon/stuffed-toy accessories to add interest to his tailoring that has yet become streetwear’s much awaited stand-in. The Airplane Bag brings to mind Thom Browne’s Hector canine carryall, so adorable that mature women are known to go weak in its presence. And to a lesser extent, Hermès’s Bolide Shark Bag, only far less capacious. And, to us, not cute like both. It does not take long to see that it is probably not quite the cabin bag to bring onboard, even in first class: not exactly overhead compartment-friendly. In fact, it is hard to imagine a grown man totting the bag anywhere. This is not a Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box dad has to bring for junior.

Understandably, Mr Abloh is into the present travel-again obsession, like so many people, especially fashion folks. We didn’t, however, quite get the supposedly dichotomic “Tourist-vs-Purist” message he was communicating or how the plane fits into all that. To be sure, the flying machine was a key motif. It appeared as oversized buttons and illustration on sweaters, even on earrings. But this unwieldy jet bag in the recognisable monogram is way too serious and too boys-and-their-toys to be clever or ironic. Mr Abloh, we know, likes to be literal; he is inclined, for instance, to naming things or identifying their function with descriptions in bold font. Is it a relief then that the Airplane Bag doesn’t come with a textual identifier? And in quotation marks?

Leaving on a Jet Plane is not a song to sing these days. Or an action to talk about. What about leaving with a jet plane?

Product photo: Louis Vuitton. Illustrations: Just So

Post-BLM Fashion?

When black style dominates, are we talking about a fashion moment or a cultural shift?

No matter how delicately we put this, we will be misconstrued. This is not the Louis Vuitton we know or remember. There is no good or bad, no better or worse. It is different and we have to acknowledge it. Under the stewardship of Virgil Abloh, LV is increasingly reflecting what he told British Vogue last year, “My power is to show Black talent, Black people, and Black people inside of my output.” And that power is expressed in full force this season: blackness has not been so obvious in an LV collection, so mightily expressed, so explicitly articulated, so evocatively styled, leaving no doubt that a black American creative director now helms the 167-year-old label. This is, perhaps, response to a burgeoning black clientele, or the ever-more surefooted stride of black creatives. Is LV, however, ready for such a massive aesthetical shift?

It is really hard to say. When Mr Abloh was handed the creative reigns of the house, surely it was foreseeable that he would create a strong identity that deviates not from his own. Mr Abloh has shown talent in deeply referencing from a whole lot of sources, but the exercises always come through from a very specific lens: black experience. This is most evident in the current show or, more specifically, film, shot by the transgender, half-Chinese-half-Swedish, American artist-and-indie-filmmaker Wu Tsang (such as the 2012 documentary Wilderness or 2019’s One Emerging from a Point of View, shown at the Singapore Biennale 2019). At 13 minutes long, this livestream event is an opus, given the general brevity of most phygital presentations now. From its opening snow-covered mountain wilderness to the interior of what looks like a subterranean space that’s evocative of a posh subway station (actually Tennis Club de Paris), with commuters, wanderers, voyeurs, and sleepers—all men—sharing the interior, the film seems to be conceived to appeal to those with a fondness for the pretentious or to video-savvy TikTok stars, such as Noah Beck, he with a bankable legion of 24 million followers, and now an LV-aligned KOL.

Titled Ebonics (the English spoken by black Americans, and considered to be a language in its own right), the collection is probably Mr Abloh’s most ambitious, covering men in suits, men in skirts, men in bulky sweaters, men in (fake?) fur, men in padded-shouldered shirts, men in hoodies, men in motocross gear, men in Calvary officer uniform, men in work wear, men in gym wear, men strapped with architectural models, men with Carrie-Bradshaw-worthy rosettes, men with Gaddafi drapes. In all, a relatively large collection of 70 looks (Prada showed only 42, and they have two designers working on the collection), which in sum, is a bit (Berry Gordy’s) Motown, a bit off-the-courts NBA, a bit Kanye West and co, a bit RuPaul when not in drag, a bit Laurie Cunningham, a bit Iceberg Slim, a bit Harlem-flashy, a bit Congo dandies, a bit Wakanda royalty; really a whole lot to unpack, and you may not want to.

As with most of Mr Abloh’s designs (or the lack of it, some might say), styling is key to setting the looks. A regular suit jacket, for example, is mis-buttoned to yield an asymmetric effect. Or, topcoats given extra-long tails so that they drag on the floor, like the trains of gowns (to excite Billy Porter?). Aplenty are knife-pleated skirts, but we’ve seen them elsewhere before—even when worn over pants (not that this will make the skirts more masculine). As well as the show-off pieces: urban armours, composed of buildings that could have been made with Metcalfe card construction kits (to better remind us Mr Abloh is a trained architect?) Despite the myriad looks, the black aesthetic is unmistakable. Could this be artistic taste that is palpably and necessarily stronger, following the Black Lives Matter movement? As Mr Abloh told the media, “Within my practice, I contribute to a Black canon of culture and art and its preservation. This is why, to preserve my own output, I record it at length.” He sure did—13 tedious minutes long.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton Pares Down

Virgil Abloh’s three-month break from work is possibly what he needed for LV

 

LV Men AW 2020 P1

The first thing that struck us about the Louis Vuitton show this season is the vaguely surreal in-the-sky set. Somewhere in the middle, among sewing paraphernalia, is a giant scissors; its blades placed apart, as if about to cut something. We at SOTD are rather traditional and we tend to be mindful of placing sharp and pointed blades in all settings, including stagings meant to show off luxury goods in the hope of generating good tidings. Fengshui practice often encourage adherents to avoid incorporating sharp edges in any given space so as not to bring on sha qi (杀气 or aura of death/the inauspicious). Blades of scissors ajar, it is believed, will cut any good luck or good qi that may be present. An American and a French company, of course, may not concern themselves with such believes, but we noticed.

Perhaps the scissors is symbolic of Mr Abloh snipping off the superfluous, the over-designed, the duds. After a good rest, it appears he has decided to rethink his approach for Louis Vuitton, the ardent embracer of what Mr Abloh stood for. He is playing down garments that he and his pal Kanye West were instrumental in promoting: those that require not the rigours of tailoring. Now, the show opened with slim-fit suits—all seemingly simple, and while they might be refreshing for Mr Abloh’s LV, it was, to us, a revisit. Is it Dior (Homme) under Kris van Assche’s watch? Did the khaki suit not say Jil Sander to us? Or, if we care to go further back, the black-and-white combo Helmut Lang?

LV Men AW 2020 G1LV Men AW 2020 G2

To be sure, Mr Abloh was a proponent of tailoring when he took the creative reigns at LV Men. He did put out suits in what observers thought was an attempt to prove that he could do fashion, specifically at the luxury level. But there was something not quite right about the early attempts. Contrived comes to mind; also tried too hard. The tailoring was, naturally competent, but it was, more significantly, without the youthful insouciance that today’s suits would benefit from. It was not an Hedi Slimane moment.

But Mr Abloh persevered. And the suits are now witnessing some vestige of maturity, the proverbial express, not impress, and a restrain that is welcome when seen against his tendency to subscribe to a grandiose scheme of things. He is, perhaps, only practising what he has recently preached. When asked, in an interview with Dazed last month, how streetwear will evolve in 2020, Mr Abloh said, “I would definitely say it is gonna die”. But does death to streetwear immediately means living to suits? Apparently. While that line of thought might be reductive, we can’t say Mr Abloh does not try to at least be interesting.

LV Men AW 2020 G3LV Men AW 2020 G4

The holster, first accessory, now appearing as part of the suit jacket, will no doubt allow the whole garment be the curious retail joy known as a hit. There is the pants with what should be the end of the vest now appearing as part of the waist, possibly an irremovable cummerbund. And everything between that appears subtle and sleek. All seems fine and dandy until the pieced-together jackets appeared. We don’t want to be too quick to assume, so we waited, and there it was, a coat with a shirt built onto the front. Now, to us, a garment on a garment (and the former mostly decorative), as well as irregular shapes joined to form suits—and ruffles (one formed up as a peplum!)—has more than a mere whiff of Comme des Garçons. Virgil Abloh, tell us we’re reading too much.

After only four seasons at LV, Mr Abloh is considered such a seasoned pro that he probably thinks he does not need to prove that he can—still a contentious point—design. Why even bother? Just do whatever you like, with stops in the past and nods to your idols, and then throw in rapper styles in the form of a shaggy fur coat for good measure. One man’s fur coat is another man’s streetwear. Ditto suits. Thing is, in 2020 will a suit, however pleasing, change the course of history? Perhaps for some, their history-making luck will remain intact. Or, uncut.

Photos: (top) screen grab of LV live stream/(runway) Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

Fashion’s Fondness For Identifying Things

Towards the end of the last decade, fashion proved that we need to know what the things we wear or used are called. Either that, or we’re terribly unintelligent

 

Off-White Quote “TOTE BAG” as seen on an evening commuter

Regular readers of SOTD know that, at the start of the new year (or, now, end of a span of ten years), we do not have the habit of looking back. Not for us, a recall of the “The Top Ten Items that Changed Fashion in the Last Decade” or “The Ten Looks of the Last Ten Years that should not Return in the Next Ten”. To rejoice or regret the past is, to us, a little pointless if you consider the speed at which things move forward, and the pleasure to bear witness to such a sweep. In no time, the Twenties shall not refer to the 1920s, but the 2020s. Today’s current will quickly become tomorrow’s retro. Yet, some things that happened in fashion need a looking back not because of their design value, but because of how they reflect our collective cleverness and, perhaps more importantly, discernment.

One thing that stood out for us rather glaringly (and annoyingly) is the predilection for identifying things as if we know them not. We aren’t referring to the oddly popular Nike T-shirt from a few months back that said “Freak” on the chest—people can describe themselves as whatever aberration they want (even if one “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, already has). It is something more insidious, starting as a small text on the out-step of the mid-sole of a sneaker and becoming full-blown naming of anything, from tops to totes.

We have no idea why we need to be told or reminded of what we wear or its constituents. We can only surmise that designers are bored with monograms and logos, and clever turn of phrases. To stay with text on garments, accessories, and footwear, they turn to bold identifying without going into full anatomy mode. How unaware, unschooled, unknowing are we? Or, how clever is the instigator?

20-01-03-19-28-47-844_deco.jpgThe “WINDOWS” at Off-White, 268 Orchard Road

It took an architect/engineer/DJ bent on conquering the fashion word to tell us that we do not know our fashion. Virgil Abloh, the designer, likes pointing out to us what should be common knowledge. We aren’t sure when it all started, but when Off-White first opened here in 2016, we remember the window labelled at the top, “WINDOWS”, in his signature font that is bold, all-caps (he isn’t shouting, it has been said), and sans-serif, and captured between double inverted commas. What could that glassed opening be if not one of windows? (That currently appears on top of the door-less entrance, which could be a “WINDOW” into the Off-White world, now offering more than just clothing, shoes, and bags).

We remember that not long after the store opening, we started noticing the “AIR” on the side of the mid-soles of shoes he created in collaboration with Nike (that began with the Air Jordan I, released in October 2017). And the three-letter word continues to appear in subsequent-sneaker collabs. What is the likelihood that an Off-White “SUPERFAN” who is also a Nike die-hard would not know that the Air Jordan I is not fitted with Nike’s air sole technology? Hack, it is even in the name of the shoe!

Off White X Nike Air Presto Black 2018Off-White X Nike Air Presto from 2018

Those partial to Mr Abloh’s work will be quick to point out that the text is an attempt at humour and irony, and is a reflection of street culture, and a clever way of setting his (otherwise ho-hum) designs apart. Forget about show, not tell. Obvious is the new black. Spelled-out is the new loud. Just as you thought “AIR” was a one-off, he gave us “FOAM” and “VULCANIZED”; yes, “VULCANIZED”! A Vibram sole so branded is understandable, but vulcanized? Oh, let’s not discount “SHOELACES” too, just in case you forgot what your mother taught you when she dressed you for play school. And, if that’s the case, Virgil Abloh offers free flash cards with your Nikes and Converses!

Of course, brands were eager to follow. We’ve seen COLLAR (yes, minus the quotation marks. Who’d be that blatant?) and SLEEVE, and COTTON, and even on top of a tear at the knee of jeans that said RIP (we think the creator meant RIPPED, or perhaps Rest In Peace, un-disfigured pants!). Meanwhile, Mr Abloh’s gone on to accessories, telling you that a backpack is a “BACKPACK”, a name card holder is “FOR CARDS” and, in case your’re still uncertain, on the other side, “FOR CARDS”, again. Perhaps more crass is the bi-fold wallet that informs you it’s “FOR MONEY”, outside and inside. And, you probably guessed it, there’s really a bi-fold duly and boldly identified! Even graffiti on a handbag has to say WOMAN (no, inverted commas this time)! Frankly, how much is inane and how much is education?

20-01-03-22-14-34-877_deco.jpgOff-White “FOR CARDS” holder

“I don’t come from where I’m supposed to come from,” Mr Abloh once proudly said to W magazine. Which could mean—and we already know this—his background isn’t in fashion. Did he infer that he could, therefore, flout tasteful convention? It is possible that Mr Abloh had to learn everything about fashion and its many parts from a blank slate, even memorising components so as to understand the whole. But isn’t it presumptuous of him to think many people need to be similarly taught? Or, know not any better?

After a decade of fast fashion and street wear, we thought fashion consumers are better informed now that even Uniqlo gives it products proper descriptions and labeling (Harrington Jackets, for example, not just any jacket. There’s even Smart Shorts for women—nothing tattered or too short!). Or, in the case of sustainable brands, hang tags that announce their socially responsible design and business practices, such as the US label Outerknown’s (which are also dissovable in the wash, eliminating even the need for recycling). Shoppers have no use for useless information, we believed. Yet, there are “TOTE BAGS” that need to be known in indiscreet text—its self-identification strangely not thought of as affront to our intelligence nor casting aspersions to an elevated consumer culture. Perhaps, we’re not so sophisticated after all. And it takes fashion designers to tell us so.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

They Fell For The Hype

With Ikea, Virgil Abloh shows that, for now, he can do no wrong. Outside one of the furniture behemoth’s stores this morning, his young, unquestioning fans support that

 

Ikea X Virgil Abloh

By Ray Zhang

“Virgil Abloh can put any shit anywhere, and there will be a queue to get it,” I heard one disgruntled (or maybe satisfied) guy tell his friend on board the free shuttle bus that takes shoppers from Tampines Central to the triumvirate of Giant, Ikea, and Courts, and back. Usually, on a Thursday (or most weekday) morning, old folks pack this bus to head to Giant for whatever specials the hypermart offers two days before the weekend, but this morning, the free transport was filled with an inordinate number of youngsters, mostly males. On the journey there, it was all expectant chirpiness, but on the way back, disappointment and displeasure pervaded the inadequately cool air of the bus.

When I got to Ikea slightly before noon, the queue has subsided. Many people—mostly adolescents—were milling around. Most were empty handed. Only few were carrying Ikea’s recognisable Frakta bag. From what I gathered, even before stepping into the store, the pieces from Ikea X Virgil Abloh’s MARKERAD collaboration were mostly, if not all, gone. Someone was heard saying “no point going in”. A standee was erected to indicate what was sold out. It appeared that much of the unnecessarily limited-edition collection were, including the brown “sculpture” bags (never mind that irony is really quite vapid now). That afternoon, when I looked at Carousell, some of the pieces where up for sale, with ridiculous prices that I do not care to repeat in order not to encourage what is essentially the work of scalpers.

A security guard told me that the queue had formed last night, “around 6 plus”, which means the shoppers spent the night outside the store—probably a first for Ikea, but an annual occurrence at H&M (check out what will happen on the night of the 6th, when collab addicts will line up for H&M X Giambattista Valli, officially launched the day after). From pictures posted on social media, it seemed that the “millennial homeowners” that Ikea and Virgil Abloh wish to appeal to are male, Off-White loving individuals with a penchant for back-lit Mona Lisa poster that doubles as a USB charger.

I can imagine Virgil Abloh fans queuing for sneakers and T-shirts, but I didn’t realise they’d do the same for chairs and glass cabinets and clocks and bedsheets that are neither accent pieces nor makeover accessories. Or were they merely repeating what yuppies (okay, too retro!) of the ’90s did when they wore Versace and used the brand’s plates and teacups, and sat among its scatter cushions? Today, these are hypebeasts happy to wear their expensive kicks on a shaggy green rug that says “wet grass”—quotation marks included (Mr Abloh and his fan base have a thing for superfluous punctuation)—for a ‘shoefie’, and to give a mass retailer such as Ikea an excuse to produce inexcusably limited wares. I suppose the thrill is in the moment, and, as accurately stated on that clock, because it’s “temporary”.

Photo: Ikea

 

Welcome To The ’Hood

Virgil Abloh’s second collection for Louis Vuitton affirms that black/hip-hop aesthetic is here to stay

 

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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.

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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?

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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

Close Look: Virgil Abloh’s Debut LV Collection

At the Louis Vuitton Men’s pop-up store in Tokyo’s Harajuku, you get to look at Virgil Abloh’s work in a setting that is nothing like the retail store. And that could be the problem—you may not feel like spending

 

lv popup @ harajulu

You will see it, from the train too—if you’re on the Yamanote Line heading towards Harajuku. The Louis Vuitton pop-up, all glass and steel and familiarly patterned all over, sits in sharp contrast to the nondescript buildings around it and, in particular, the verdant grounds of Yoyogi Park, just across the road. The serenity of the 54-hectare park, former Olympic village of the 1964 summer games, is surprisingly duplicated within LV’s temp store, erected to showcase—literally—the debut pieces of the brand’s star designer Virgil Abloh, now raved by the media as a “taste-maker”.

Inside, it is unlike any shop you have ever been to. But first, you’d have to get in. It’s not as easy as just walking through the front door. LV shops have a habit of making you wait, whether there is a queue or not. Sentries are there to ensure you don’t merely breeze through. Some stores, apparently, have a by-appointment-only policy and you will be denied entry without prior arrangement. Here in Harajuku, the front part of the store, where the one entry point is positioned, is manned (on the day we visited) by four suited guards. We were very politely ushered to the right side of the entrance where we were told to wait in line. Two minutes to opening, there was not one yet.

According to earlier reports in the Japanese media, entry is permitted when shoppers turn up with a ticket. These were supposed to be issued at 8.30 in the morning every day. People were told to start queuing at 6am. It seems there were those who did brave the winter morning cold to secure a ticket to get in line. According to a WWD account, “about 1,000 people queued up in the Japanese capital to be among the first to buy”. A week after the store’s 10 January opening, no ticket/keepsake, it seemed, was required since none was given to us.

DSC_6791.JPGdsc_6774The split level icon of Virgil Abloh’s current inspiration, the model Omari Phipps

Once you’re allowed in, an attendant greets you and guides you through a fixed route so that you end up in the inner section, where rope and stanchion indicate that another queue is to be expected. Here, the first attendant hands you over to another staff member who emerges from a line-up of about twenty-odd nattily attired sales people. The second, all smiling and eager to please, shows you to the actual retail space. This person will follow you throughout your visit till you leave the store, with or without purchase in hand, which may be of little concern here since it is reported that this pop-up already rang up 30 percent more sales in the first 48 hours of its operation than any other LV launches, including the collaboration with Supreme.

This is amazing to us. The essentially concrete store (distinguished by iridescent stickers of LV logos pasted on pillars, walls, and floors) is so well presented as exhibition that it seems to encourage viewing than purchasing. To be sure, retail space is increasingly a ‘curated’ space, and many are art gallery-like. This LV pop-up is clearly no exception; it seems to mirror the Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo, just down the street on Omotaesando. Frankly, it’s all a bit of a show-off.

Standing—to be more specific, half-kneeling—in the middle is a statue of LV model of the season, Omari Phipps, the English lad who opened the LV spring/summer 2019 show back in June last year. The space surrounding the guy’s lower half is dedicated to nothing much except to displaying Mr Abloh’s installation sense, an expensive exercise to boot. You know instantly that you had come in for the experience, if not the merchandise.

DSC_6780.JPGlv harajuku p5Virgil Abloh fans, affluent and not alike, will possibly go quite mad on the two of the selling floors

It is experiential, alright, so much so that the experience—allow us to repeat—overwhelms the urge to buy. This was compounded, during our time there, by the sales attendant who stayed closed and urged us to try something, anything. The eerily bare and neat fitting rooms, lined on one side of a concrete corridor that looked like it could be the set of a film about a spooky sanatorium, do not appear inviting enough for one to peel off winter layers to try, say, a T-shirt or the knit pullover (a hooded and monochromatic version of the one featuring Dorothy and co of Wizard of Oz, which we were told “is exclusive to Japan”) that the sales staff had urged us to slip into. Someone outside, on a JR train, might see us try clothes, LV notwithstanding!

Everything is displayed in such a manner that one wonders if touching is allowed. In fact, some props and merchandise are indistinguishable. Accessories, such as eyewear, bracelets, and key rings beckons from within glass cases, distancing themselves from shoppers’ desire even when they gleam invitingly. Others such as the semi-transparent, embossed PVC Keepall—“the most wanted”—are placed like precious sculptures, to be admired, not caressed. When we reached out to touch one (the blue, if it interests you), the person trailing us offered to bring one for our inspection. Such attentive service was so at odds with everything we are used to here that we didn’t feel it was natural even if it was strangely appealing. Or, was this just Japan?

lv harajuku p6The special and limited edition Wizard of Oz hoodie that is available exclusively at the pop-up

Up close, Mr Abloh’s Louis Vuitton has that hyped-to-death ‘elevation’ seen in his Off-White. Sure, the clothes and the bags and the accessories looked interesting from far, but when you consider them individually in your hands, the barely more-than-basics don’t break new ground in terms of construction or reveal a creative nous. They feel luxurious, for sure, but it isn’t certain they’d look luxurious when worn, especially on those that, had by then, started to populate the space (no more than 30 at one go, we were told), whose main aim, it appeared, was to dress like hip-hop stars. The spare, but artistically appointed setting certainly made the clothes look attractive, but once out if it, on a body not a mannequin, we can’t be sure.

Although our guide/sales staff was polite, friendly, and informative (it appeared that there was nothing about the merchandise he didn’t know), his constant presence left us no opportunity to even have thoughts to ourselves. Just as we wondered—silently—if there were any sneakers in this launch event, he pointed to a shelf with two chunky, hardware-heavy kicks and asked, undeterred, if we would like to try a pair. When we declined, he guided us to another part of the store, and introduced other items to us. When we finally decided to leave, some 15 minutes after entering, he accompanied us to the door, bowed, and said cheerily, “have a nice day”. To be sure, it was.

Louis Vuitton’s Harajuku pop-up store for the men’s spring/summer 2019 collection is open till 30 January. Photos: Jiro Shiratori

It Pays To Belong

Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2019 was a triumph for Virgil Abloh. Would it the same for the future of men’s wear? Or were we witnessing one big brand trying to fit in?

 

LVM SS19 P1

The emotional hug between Virgil Abloh and Kanye West at the end of the former’s debut for Louis Vuitton was rather telling. Both men, it was reported, were crying. Tears of joy, no doubt, and also of pride, and, veritably, achievement. This was a moment of brotherhood for Mr Abloh and Mr West and the rest of their gang. This was a moment of acclaim for hip-hop. This was a moment of visibility for Black America. This was a moment of victorious Barrack Obama, all over again.

That the show opened with a parade of Wakanda-worthy black men (at least 16 of them passed by before a non-black emerged) is perhaps indication that Mr Abloh has pledged blackness as mainstream—the rainbow runway a sidebar to the story of diversity. This isn’t playing the race card as much as verifying that black culture is here to stay. This is the year of Kendrick Lamar, and Wendy Williams singing his praises with gusto. This is not even Off-White’s glory; this is Virgil Abloh’s, and his alone. And no one now can steer the course with purpose and buzz than Mr Abloh, not even his pal, the Yeezy himself.

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Louis Vuitton’s positioning as a popular global brand means it no longer needs to celebrate its French-ness, or fashion the way the French had for decades, selling haute couture and, later, pret-a-porter to the world. Given how homogeneous clothing designs have become, it now needs to pitch itself in a market place that is awash with a sameness that Marc Almond laments in Monoculture, singing “why don’t I just give up/And submit to the great God of Bland?”

The thing is, fashion houses need no design directors to churn out what store buyers call “better basics”. Mr Abloh told the Financial Times that he wants to make “the most beautiful normcore clothes, but as luxurious as possible.” Anyone can do that, and many have—think the Olsen twins for the flavour-lite The Row. Furthermore, such clothing are already being produced through collaborations. It is, therefore, understandable when one observer commented to SOTD early this morning in total dismay, “This is what Adidas would do if Adidas did RTW.” Such as the immensely stylish, now-defunct SLVR line, once designed by Dirk Schoenberger?

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LVM SS19 G2

Is this even about the clothes? Not really. Presently, no one can provide better optics than a member of American hip-hop royalty heading a French house. Such an appointment was Kanye West’s dream, but that did not come true for him. Still, he is able to now live vicariously through Mr Abloh, his long-time collaborator. The front-row display of emotion was, thus, to be expected: This was as much Mr West’s victory, more so when the hip-hop community’s foray into fashion design was very much shunned in the beginning. Mr West himself was snubbed, in Paris no less, where he showed two disastrous collections in 2011 and 2012. Could this be pay back time?

That was then, this is now. If you ever doubted hip-hop’s cultural impact on the fashion of our time, this collection may sent disbelief to some dark corner of your armoire. It is not certain if this is how Jaden Smith and his inner-city peers would like to dress, but it does evoke what’s pervading today: the grown-up styles of black youths who have graduated from fashion that glorifies the thrift-store. This is not about old Adidas football jerseys teamed with D&G when it existed. Nor, off-duty NBA stars. This is black culture celebrating one of their own. This is papa hoodie in procreation mode. This is post-post-Sean Jean; this is post-Hood By Air; this is when the ’hood is gentrified.

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LVM SS19 G4

What does the urban black man of means, such as Virgil Abloh and his cohorts and those who look to hip-hop stars for fashion inspiration and guidance, like to wear? If LV is an indication, perhaps sheer, oversized T-shirts? Or, printed/coloured, baggy trousers? Or, shorts that look like bloomers? Or, holsters as one-sided vests? Or, sweaters featuring gay icons Dorothy and friends down the yellow brick road?

Ultimately is this still about street style? It’s hard to say. Fashion is long gone about design. It is about looks pulled together from various articles of clothing not necessarily connected to one another. Street style is, of course, such an amalgamation. But Mr Abloh isn’t delivering street the way OAMC’s Luke Meier (one-time co-designer at Supreme) does. He is, instead, offering what McDonald’s calls “upsized”: you get more meat, but at the core, it’s still the same flavourless mince.

If fashion is about a designer’s voice, what was Mr ABloh saying that wasn’t already said at Off-White? That should be the question. In a couple of the appliquéd badges that appeared on the clothes, a message was delivered: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. Was Virgil Abloh referring to himself? If he was, it was a genius pitch because you most certainly will, rather than not.

Photos: (first) Getty Images, (second) Louis Vuitton live stream, (others) Indigital.tv