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

 

lv aw 2019 p1
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.

lv aw 2019 g1

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?

lv aw 2019 g2lv aw 2019 g3

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?

 

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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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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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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

Off-White In Cement Grey

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The hitherto quiet building 268 Orchard Road is slowly turning to be a centre for alt-brands. Now, the all-glass entrance is flanked by two stores featuring labels that visitors to its neighbours—Robinsons Department Store on its left and the soon-to-open Apple flagship on its right—are not likely to desire with relish or open wallets. Joining Christian Dada, which opened about five months ago, is the luxury street-wear brand Off-White.

Born in 2014, Off-White is considered an Italian label by place of birth—Milan—rather than by nationality of its founder/designer Virgil Abloh, who is American. In Europe, the Chicago native is credited for upping the game for street wear by introducing the “luxe” (or, as Vogue described it, “elevated”) version of a category that, until now, has largely been snubbed by the couture-guarding establishment. In his homeland, Mr Abloh is possibly recognised more as a DJ/art director than a fashion designer. His art direction for the 2012 Jay Z and Kanye West album Watch the Throne received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. He’s also known to be part of Kanye West’s inner circle, as well as on his payroll as creative director, a position that no doubt, influences the outcome of his employer’s Yeezy line.

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It is perhaps to be expected then that you might think that Off-White is a blood brother of Yeezy. Thankfully, despite a shared genesis that can be traced to hip-hop, there’s no discernible spill over of the Yeezy aesthetics. It is also different from Mr Abloh’s first fashion venture, the mostly-T-shirt Pyrex Vision. Still, the reliance on rapper-preferred staples such as hoodies, track pants, and army-surplus separates feeds the average shoppers’ understanding of what Drake and Rihanna and co like to wear, however narrow the comprehension might be. While there is, to the fashion design purists, no real ‘design’, Off-White does pay considerable effort to product development. The clothes enjoy post-production effects such as washes and artificial ageing—the distresses that, for so many, are where the appeal of athleisure can be found.

The thing is, Off-White’s main man has yet to show convincingly that those designers related to the hip-hop scene rather than fashion can produce consistently innovative designs. These days, ‘design’, of course, needs to be redefined. The fundamentals may have not changed much but the approach has. Fast fashion is part of the re-writing of the definition, and many young designers who consume the end products lap up design seen through fast-fashion lenses. Mr Aboh’s “elevated” designs share much of this dynamic. Being a DJ, he can’t disconnect remixing from designing. The allure of bringing together disparate elements is so strong even outside music that many in the hip-hop business go into fashion as a natural progression of their careers.

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The Off-White store at 268 Orchard Road also goes by the barely detectable moniker Window. Whether this is a window into a world of anything depends on what you desire to see. If it’s incredible newness that you’re hoping to uncover, then perhaps this is the wrong window to open. If it’s to witness what more can be done to street-wear standards, then perhaps, there’s something here that will titillate your yet-to-be satiated desire. The store was surprisingly busy on the Wednesday that we visited, and those that came did not come for what could be worn to a boardroom meeting or a wedding. A guy trying on a loose T-shirt clearly has a collector’s loot of HBAs at home.

The store, jointly designed by Mr Abloh and the New York architectural firm Family (that also, perhaps not coincidentally, designed Kanye West’s set of his 2013–14 Yeezus tour) and operated by D’League (the company behind the soon-to-be-revived Surrender),  is essentially a space barely seduced by paint brush. Exposed concrete all-over is, of course, not new, but here, you feel that the interior is inspired by the set of Saw. From the main entrance (at the atrium of the building rather than from the street), you walk into a shoe-box shape sectioned into what could be rooms in full, bare-concrete glory. If you do not look beyond your immediate space, you’d miss them. These out-of-sight recesses have the advantage of luring you into believing that there are hidden gems to be found.

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Counterpoint to the warehouse-bareness and greyness is a stretch of greenery in the middle of the store, where bamboo has a starring role under a make-belief skylight. A central park, if you will; an oasis, a sign of life, even when it looks clearly placed than planted. The hotel ballroom approach to greening may appear artificial, but it gives the severe and rather symmetrical space a softness that perhaps the clothes alone cannot.

Could this dense foliage be metaphor for something more natural and calm? For sure, fashion, of late, has not been that way. But maybe we’re reading too much into it. Beyond the bamboo, there are really just clothes—elevated, maybe, but not way up anywhere.

Off-White is at 268 Orchard Road. Photos: Galerie Gombak