Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
A cruise line without the brand’s most-adored menswear designer. Finally. Is anything missing?
At last, a men’s collection not associated with the late Virgil Abloh. But is it really? The cruise or resort (take your pick) 2023 season is not helmed by a single designer. No one has been selected to fill Mr Abloh’s Air Force 1s—not even rumoured to have. According to press notes that LV shared, the latest collection is “conceived” by the house’s favourite designer. Mr Abloh is known to work way ahead of schedule and for his habit of keeping visual notes on what he would do for upcoming seasons. Still, it is not unreasonable to assume that the LV men’s studio would have exhausted whatever Mr Abloh left behind by now, but apparently there has been enough materials and ideas that could be “carried out by the creative teams and collaborators with whom he continually worked at Louis Vuitton”, so much so that they could even discern a “coming-of-age theme”.
That LV wants Mr Abloh’s name linked to the brand for as long as possible isn’t hard to grasp. Mr Abloh was not only LV’s most successful menswear designer, he was their most popular. Since his death last November, there were not only posthumous shows (three now!) or “memorials”, as some call it; but tributes (including store windows); in-store/pop-up events; and the current Nike X Louis Vuitton Dream Now, a fancy, hologram-aplenty exhibition in Brooklyn, New York. We don’t remember any brand, in recent years, so ardently protracts the legacy and memory of a design employee, not even Chanel, following the death of the more prolific Karl Lagerfeld. Mr Abloh was often compared to Mr Lagerfeld, but it is the Off-White founder that is being so eagerly and extensively memorialised.
This is rather a filler collection, one not only for the in-between season, but also for the rudderless interim. Fashion’s success is presently so tethered to a living name (or one in living memory) that the clothes have to sport more than a trace of the aesthetical cheer raged by individuals of the recent past. Virgil Abloh’s hand may not be in the pieces, but the handwriting is not indistinct. And the styling retains the Blackness that he had introduced and was lauded for. One of Mr Abloh’s talents was his flair with using logograms and such conspicuously, which no doubt delighted his employer. This season, that surfeit of identifiable symbols and text, monograms and the Damier check, is augmented by the late designer’s love of cartoons, font play, and patterns—this time, musical notation. The outright branding exercise allows for minimal design push that might be considered curiosity-arousing (put aside, for now, ground-breaking). This is not the LV resort for women.
Surprisingly, there are so few skirts—just two out of the 43 looks. Mr Abloh had made non-bifurcated bottoms, even if belatedly, key to his brand of forwardness for LV, so their cutback is unexpected. It is not known how many skirts for men are sold to date, or how popular they are, but the reduction in quantity now might indicate that the skirt adoption among their customers may not be as high as their increased presence during Mr Abloh’s tenure suggested. For now, the collaboration with Nike will (in fact, has) be in the spotlight, encouraging frenzy and the very real boom in the resale market. Mr Abloh always did know that bombastic sneakers boost brand bottom line. Louis Vuitton is unlikely to change that.
At the recent Grammy Awards, the late Virgil Abloh was described as a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer”. Stop “downplaying his achievements”, many cried
Virgil Abloh had a long career in fashion—almost two decades. From the early days of Pyrex Vision to his final glory at Louis Vuitton, Mr Abloh, admittedly, more than dabbled in fashion. But was his accomplishments unfairly trimmed when the recent Grammy Awards show labeled him a “Hip-Hop Fashion Designer” during the In Memoriam segment of the presentation? Was ‘Fashion Designer’ not adequate? Mr Abloh still has a huge fan base, possibly larger than some of the night’s nominated artistes. That so many viewers and attendees would be riled up was to be expected when the description does not offer something that suggests Greatness, specifically Black Greatness. But was it, as many insisted, “racially-charged” Or, “disrespectful”? And what, by the way, is a “hip hop fashion designer”?
It didn’t help that the members of BTS wore Louis Vuitton, specifically from the late designer’s last collection for the house—fall 2022. Vogue called the suits that the septet wore “spiffy” although four of the double-breasted (out of the seven two-pieces) were dangerously close to dowdy (let’s risk the wrath of The Army!) if not for the youthfulness of the wearers. But looking at those suits lined up in a row, it is hard to pin “hip hop fashion” to the tailored ensembles, even if hip-hop stars have for quite a while adopted dapper suits for their performances and public appearances (even Rihanna wore his LV!). This was, to so many who watched the telecast, visually contradictory to the description that appeared below Mr Abloh’s name. This had to be the apex of fashion!
There is no denying Virgil Abloh was a titan in the world of hip hop, not only for his association with Kanye West (who attended Mr Abloh’s debut LV show and hugged him at the end of it), but also the work he did for the rapper. Before he created clothes that many people wanted to buy, he was very much a part of that world, and still is. But Mr Abloh, to many of his supporters, was much bigger than anything that came out of hip-hop: he headed a French house and dabbled, even if only briefly, in the rather un-hip-hop of crafts—haute couture. In addition, Mr Abloh was a Grammy nominee. In 2011, he was selected for the cover design (done in partnership with Riccardo Tisci) of Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne (more hip-hop there). Would The Recording Academy not have served the viewers of their award presentation better if they acknowledged the Off-White founder with the prefix “Grammy-nominated” followed by his stature in art and fashion?
Despite the underwhelming description, it is not degrading to be considered a “hip-hop fashion designer” (assuming that’s a valid accolade) when so many Black creatives have effected distinctive and influential aesthetics rooted in their own culture, which includes hip-hop. Sure, Mr Abloh went further than most, but he did draw from the aesthetical legacy of his community and brought international attention to it. He, too, birthed the use of text—within inverted commas—to identify articles of clothing and accessories, and their parts, which is not unlike the words used in graffiti art—considered a part of the quartet most identified with hip-hop that includes emceeing (rapping), DJing (which the designer did), and B-boying (breakdancing). In hip-hop, many do see the positively indomitable spirit of Virgil Abloh.
Virgil Abloh is reported to have finished the autumn/winter collection before he died. It is not certain he intended this to be his last
It is understandable why Louis Vuitton wants Virgil Abloh to be the most important and unforgettable designer in their employ, past and present. A month after his death in November last year, Louis Vuitton windows world-wide were dedicated to their star designer. Even Karl Largerfeld’s death did not yield a Chanel window on the same scale (not that Mr Lagerfeld would want to be remembered that way. Chanel organised a quiet funeral although, according to the late Andre Leon Talley, Mr Lagerfeld wished “not to be seen in death”). But it didn’t end with the “Virgil was Here” store-front memorial. In the same month, LV staged a show in Miami(!) where, as it was widely reported, Mr Abloh was “honored”. And now, for his final collection, honouring him seems more pronounced than showing the clothes. Virgil Abloh’s “profound legacy” is also Louis Vuitton’s profound legacy.
In 2019, Mr Abloh told Dazed, when asked what would be the fate of “the idea of streetwear” in 2020, “I would definitely say it’s gonna die, you know? Like, its time will be up”. That proclamation was met with dismay and even chagrin. He later told Vogue, “I didn’t say it to be polarising”. But he did say it, and now streetwear is not quite meeting its predicted demise, certainly not at LV, where it was brought to attention when Mr Abloh joined the house some eight collections ago. The numeral ‘8’ is, in Chinese culture, a lucky number, so his last might be an auspicious one for LV in this part of the world, but when ‘8’ makes a 90-degree left or right rotation, it is the infinity symbol, ∞. The collection is called The ∞th Field, “a place… something like a dream” (also dubbed Louis Dreamhouse), according to Mustafa the Poet, who appeared in the opening film, telling us that “When your imagination is a pulse, this sort of sparkle is formed. It lets you make things happen as long as you believe it will”.
Dream or not, the the streetwear sensibility, as seen through Black eyes and expressed by Black hands, is unmistakable. Although many attribute streetwear’s unstoppable rise to the Black culture of America, the streetwear of Shanghai or Tokyo is not the same as the streetwear of Los Angeles, or Chicago. Mr Abloh’s streetwear looks and, indeed, the tailoring, have an unmistakable Blackness about it—by now, all LV. This is not a collection in which to outdo what Mr Abloh had done in the past. After eight seasons, perhaps LV is really into the grove. There is no revolution to bring about, no creative point to prove, just reminding us what Mr Abloh was good at, as well as his intellectual bent, his predilection for art, his propensity to want to let the world know how far he has come.
A Louis Vuitton collection for men these days is incomplete without skirts. So there they are in various forms, including the asymmetric piece worn with what appears to be a football jersey (manlier?) and the sheer ones that would delight Maria Grazia Chiuri. The sports clothes, too, are still present, such as the varsity jacket that now comes with a cutaway collar. If a man has a weakness for openwork fabrics, but does not desire lace, there is the pantsuit with the overlay netting linked with LV floral motifs (as seen in their house monogram). This is not gender-bending; this is exclusive inclusivity that gives the LV shopper options. If you are planning to be a he-bride, there is something for you too, complete with trailing veil. And if it is an angel that you wish to dress as—an LV Angel, no less—there are assorted wings for you to choose. How pleased Virgil Abloh must be, looking at all this—and at all of us—from up where he is now.
Screen grab: Louis Vuitton/YouTube. Photos: Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall 2022 offers headwear that we have seen at Kenzo’s spring/summer 2021
Left: Louis Vuitton. Photo: Louis Vuitton. Right: Kenzo. Photo: gorunway.com
We really do not wish to talk about the dead in not-so-glorious terms. But some things are just hard to ignore. Louis Vuitton has just released images of their men’s pre-fall 2022 (that’s another confusing season/category), reported to be designed by the late Virgil Abloh, and was finished and photographed before his shocking demise. Among his usual take on workwear-meets-streetwear-meets-sportswear mix-ups, one single item stood out, not because it is incoherent with the looks of the collection, but because it is very similar to those already shown very recently: the beekeeper’s hat and veil. Now, we resist the C-word here, but being inspired by someone else’s idea from not too long ago: we really do not know what else to call that.
In fact, from just last year, when Felipe Oliveira Baptista showed very similar head wear for Kenzo spring/summer 2021, which also included those for men (see photo, top right). Mr Baptista’s version were offered in assorted hat shapes and veils of different volumes and, fabulously, lengths. Some are packable too. They came at the height of the pandemic, when face shields were among the options for protective gear not amounting to the PPE. It is not clear what the adoption rate of these beekeeping wear was, but they made for one rather unforgettable collection of that season.
Now, we have Louis Vuitton also doing these hat-and-face-coverings. Mr Abloh had, in fact, in the past year or so, been rather into obscuring the face, just like pal Kanye West (now rumoured to be succeeding his friend!). This veiling comes after he did a Richard Quinn! Is this beekeeper’s shield also homage to something done by someone else Mr Abloh admired? Or, in the age of the hack, just a simple trick to share output of what is already part of the luxury group (Kenzo belongs to LVMH)? Even if they come in LV’s monogram and the graffiti prints of the Milan-based artist/tattooist Ghusto Leon, are they less first-seen-somewhere-else (some of Kenzo’s veils were printed too)? Or, as we have lamented before, is the world really so confusing to make out?
Virgil Abloh’s final collection for Louis Vuitton, recently restaged in Miami, included more long skirts that was already shown (digitally) in June. Will there be a mad rush to buy them?
These days, they do not need to go by the euphemism kilts. Or in hybrid form, the skort. A skirt is a skirt, and if Louis Vuitton’s latest showing of so many is to be believed, many men are going to be wearing them, if not now, very soon. At the second presentation—finally an IRL show—in Miami of Virgil Abloh’s final collection for Louis Vuitton, skirts were aplenty. We are not merely talking about the odd wrap-overs masquerading as skirts, worn over trousers; we are talking about full-skirted ones, some 28 of them (out of 83 looks shown in the city in Florida). There were even those unmistakably puffed and layered, like those women would wear to a gala event. Only now, men could wear them, with a football jersey. To better play down any overt femininity?
And Mr Abloh did give guys many skirts to choose from in the digital presentation in June. And now they appear ready to be the big story when the next season comes around. Those not yet willing to look like they raided the wardrobe of their sisters/girlfriends have the choice of pieces that look like folds of fabrics or come with vertical drawstrings to break the shape of what would be identifiably a skirt. But those willing to be unambiguous about the non-bifurcated bottoms they wear could opt for the real deal: with gathers or with pleats (they could pass of as part of uniforms for the Japanese partial arts of kendo if you are still unsure), Or, a couple seemingly with petticoats underneath. These are red carpet-ready, even when worn with sneakers, and would no doubt inspire a new generation of male award attendees.
By now, the idea of men in skirts is really no longer shocking or mere rhetoric that would pass. We have seen male cover subjects wearing skirts on magazines and we have seen non-models wearing them on the streets (yes, on Orchard Road!). And we have heard—and read—the frequent reminders that men have, in fact, worn skirts in the past and still do, especially in Southeast Asia, such as the Burmese longyi (they don’t call it a sarong). But a skirt that looks like something your wife wears is still very much absent from an average guy’s—even a hypebeast’s—wardrobe. And will likely remain so for a while. The irony, as we observe, is that more women are forsaking skirts for pant, just as they are increasingly choosing sneakers over high heels, which, conversely, are what some men are enthusiastically adopting.
Virgil Abloh was not the first to think skirts suit men. Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), just to name three of the early pioneers, have never considered a skirt to be solely for one sex. While gay guys and men extremely comfortable with their feminine side have no qualms about a skirt or two sitting among the pants they own, the majority of the heterosexual male population have totally discounted the skirt as an option, dismissing it as feminine, totally female. Perhaps, Mr Abloh could have changed the course of the discourse if he had the chance to pursue it further. As a cis straight man (as far as we know), he was most likely able to do the convincing. And if the world of Black machismo could be persuaded and assured, perhaps there is hope for the rest of the hordes of refusing men.
Jaden Smith paved the way when he wore an LV skirt from the women’s spring/summer 2016 collection in the brand’s campaign of that season. Many more men have adopted skirts since then. But things may, perhaps, only change significantly if Idris Elba did so, or Jamie Foxx, or Michael B Jordan, And then followed by Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Ryan Renolds. And Hyun Bin, Lee Min Ho, and every one of them from BTS. Then, the rest of the blokes around you. Here, things would truly change if the likes of Terrence Koh, Jamie Chua’s LV-loving boyfriend, would wear any one of those LV skirts just seen in Miami. That would truly be a revolution.
Orbituary | Virgil Abloh also showed that being black is no barrier
We woke up to highly OMG news this morning: Virgil Abloh is dead. The revelation that “shocked” even his employer at LVMH, Bernard Arnault, has been flooding our news feed with the same urgency as the passing of a head of state, with his eponymous Instagram account announcing six hours ago, “We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh”. It also revealed that Mr Abloh “battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma”. He was diagnosed with the illness in 2019, just a year after he was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections. Cardiac angiosarcoma, according to John Hopkins University, are tumours that form in the heart. Mr Abloh was 41.
So determined was he to make a deep mark in the world of luxury fashion, and fashion at large, that he kept his diagnosis secret and soldiered on. Even a three-month break that he took before the autumn/winter 2020 show was not clue that he was seriously ill. Under his watch, the menswear of Louis Vuitton was more successful than it ever was, even when the collections were designed by his friend and mentor Kim Jones, who reportedly recommended Mr Abloh to the LV position when Mr Jones vacated it to go Dior. The American designer was already making waves stateside with his own label Off-White, but it was the LV role that brought his “elevated take” (the oft-repeated description) of streetwear to the hallowed corridors of Louis Vuitton and the attention of the world. Even Mr Jones’s collaboration with Supreme (the one that got it all rolling) paled in comparison to Mr Abloh’s I’d-be-damned-if-I-don’t attitude towards luxury menswear.
The emotional hug between Virgil Abloh and Kanye West at Mr Abloh’s debut collection for Louis Vuitton’s menswear in 2018. Photo: Getty Images
His appointment at LV shocked the world then as his death does now. It was not that he was the first black American to hold the design reigns at a French house. The general consensus was that Mr Abloh was not quite the designer that many have come to associate with those helming a storied fashion label even one without an haute couture heritage. We too were not certain he was the right choice, and we are still conflicted about his output for LV. Yet, he would come to be described as the “Karl Lagerfeld of the millennial generation”, courtesy of Vanessa Friedman, whose 202O New York Times article compared him to the late Chanel designer. Mr Abloh was not delighted with the parallels drawn. He responded via Twitter, “i’m going to do an academic lecture about this article one day. just figuring out which one. riffing online is far too low hanging fruit for such an easy and massive “case & point”, igniting, unsurprising, a Twitter war among fans and not.
Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois in 2018 to parents who immigrated to the US from Ghana, West Africa. His father was in the paint business and his mother was a seamstress, and from her, Mr Abloh learned to sew. Despite this initial interest in a component of dressmaking, he chose to graduate in civil engineering and, later, with a masters in architecture. According to him, it was during his second time in university when he came face to face with an on-campus building that was being constructed. It was designed by Rem Koolhas, the Dutch architect who had been behind many Prada stores, including the first-ever US flagship, the Prada Epicentre in Soho, New York City. It is not certain if Mr Abloh had then seen any of the Prada stores, but it was generally excepted that his love for fashion took root at that time.
Virgil Abloh’s first clothing label Pyrex Vision. Photo: wehustle.co.uk
According to one Vogue report, it was rumoured that on the day of his first tertiary graduation, Mr Abloh skipped the ceremony to meet Kanye West’s one-time manager John Monopoly. It is not known what was discussed, but soon after that, the rapper and the young graduate worked together. A fast friendship took shape between the two men and dreams of conquering the fashion world began to appear. In 2009, three years after gaining his degree in architecture, Mr Abloh and his mentor-turn-pal Mr West would find themselves interning at Fendi in Rome. A year later, he would become the creative director of Donda, the creative agency, not the tenth studio album (2021), that Mr West started. Concurrently, both fellows would make their presence felt in fashion, appearing, for instance, in Paris Fashion Week, and be photographed—at Comme des Garçons, no less and by Tommy Ton, who sent it to (the now defunct) style.com. Mr Abloh told W’s Diane Solway in 2017, “We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there”.
But, there they were, and in no time, they caught up. In 2011, a Grammy nomination started the ball rolling. Mr Abloh was asked to art direct Jay Z’s Watch the Throne album. He enlisted Riccardo Tisci, then at Givenchy and who was thick with the community of hip-hop stars, as well as the Kardashians, to design the cover. A year later, the Grammy attention led to Mr Abloh’s first clothing line Pyrex Vision—the now-famous gathering of deadstock Ralph Lauren shirts silkscreened with the massive number 23 (as homage to his fave basketball star Michael Jordan) and daringly hawked for US$550 apiece. Pyrex Vision lasted for about a year. And then Off White c/o Virgil Abloh was born, in, unexpectedly, Milan. He made quotation marks the most desirable punctuation. And soon Off-White products with textual indentification became a thing. When we look back now, it is hard to remember design distinctions of Off-White other than those words in sans-serif font. Even his debut store here had “WINDOWS” for a shop name.
Fan tribute: this morning, a pedestrian wears an Off-White X Nike football tee from 2018. Photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD
Mr Abloh has up till now approached his clothing design with the flair of a graphic, rather than fashion designer. Much of the text-as-motifs used in Off-White recall those of Pyrex Vision, themselves rather post-Junya Watanabe and Undercover. When he added those massive, arrowed crosses to the rear of the Off-White tops, they became more desirable than any monogram then. Text-emblazoned garments, both bottoms and tops, became the brand’s hot-sellers and established Mr Abloh as the designer to watch. But just as important, his rise as a black man in fashion was far more rapid that his fellow intern at Fendi, Kanye West, who debuted Yeezy Season 1 in 2015, two years after Off-White’s founding and a year after the later’s womenswear line was showed during Paris Fashion Week. In 2017, his partnership with Nike—The Ten, which saw him re-interpret the Swoosh’s 10 “iconic” silhouettes—sealed his destiny as the designer who could do no wrong. And the main man to lay the path for other Black designers to follow suit. Not even Pharrell Williams, with his association with Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld on one end and Adidas on the other, could be close.
In 2018, Louis Vuitton came acalling. By then, the brand had already dipped its toes into the bubbling streetwear pool with the Kim Jones-initiated collaboration with Supreme. The launch here at their ION Orchard store amounted to a near frenzy, with shoppers from the region coming specifically for the event. That would be a foretaste of what was to come of Mr Abloh’s unexpected appointment. Streetwear was a burgeoning retail category and luxury fashion would not want to be excluded. Mr Abloh’s debut LV show, had hype and hoodies to delight those for whom, a snazzy sartorial existence could not be so without them, as well as tailoring and utility vests to delight the dandies and Alyx fanboys alike. On the prismatic runway set in the grounds of the Palais Royal, on which Black models dominated, streetwear devotees saw their god-man rose to the occasion.
The fibreglass image of Omari Phipps, Virgil Abloh’s personal pick to represent the LV man at the launch of Mr Abloh’s collection for the French house. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD
Mr Abloh took his position at LV proudly and seriously, wearing his Blackness on his sleeves. His subsequent LV shows amps up the Black aesthetic, not just in the clothes, but also in their presentation, as well as in the environment in which the buzzy products are sold, as evident, for example, at the LV pop-up stores in January 2019, erected to give fans and followers a heads-up over Mr Abloh’s first looks for the brand. The store in Tokyo’s Harajuku had a massive structure of the model Omari Phipps stretched across two floors of the glass building. It was unmistakable that a Black man had come to revive LV, just as inclusiveness and street style came to the fore simultaneously among the fashion conscious and the community of hypebeasts who considered everything he did unquestionably “genius”.
Despite the massive global fame that his supporters said were equal parts passion in his work and the self-belief that he had come to change things or, at least, shake them up, Virgil Abloh’s career was riddled with industry doubt of his design talents, charges of hype-dependency, and, more seriously, a string of supposed plagiarism. Just last August, the Belgium designer Walter van Beirendonck alleged that his designs/ideas were knocked off by the LV artistic director. This, and other similar accusations, Mr Abloh flatly denied. In responding to Mr van Beirendonck’s accusation, he issued a statement to say, “They are a hate-filled attempt to discredit my work”, which, to some, played the thinly-veiled race card. Despite the industry’s distrust in the provenance of his design ideas, consumers would not be discouraged, or uninfluenced. Louis Vuitton remained hugely popular and profitable. The pertinent and urgent question is, who will take over Virgil Abloh? Will it be another Black man? If that’s crucial to the brand identity of LV, who would that guy be?
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.
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?”
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
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?
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
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 OneEmerging 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.