Virgil Abloh is not unfamiliar with irony. Case in point: the quotation marks that have become synonymous with his work at his streetwear label Off-White are his way of operating in a form of ironic indifference. And now, the man who was once denied entry into fashion shows, is helming of one the biggest luxury brands in the world. The irony must not be lost on him.
Abloh is definitely not in Illinois anymore. So how did the kid from Chicago, who grew up thinking that Michael Jordan was a superhero, end up at Louis Vuitton? You’ve heard the Kanye narrative, where Abloh served as his fashion consigliere and provided creative direction. That's not forgetting the commercial and cultural success of Off-White. But we are here for the origin story, and Abloh's lies in the Louis Vuitton store that he would pass by every day during his formative years.
In an interview given to British GQ, he said: “For me, part of the reason that I’m here is because I would go into the [Louis Vuitton] store and not be able to afford what I wanted. That aspiration gave me my work ethic. I would go as far as to say that if Louis Vuitton bags weren’t as expensive as they are, I wouldn’t work as hard as I do now.”
For Abloh, Louis Vuitton is more than a purveyor of luxury, it was the benchmark of success, and his appointment to lead the French maison into the new era is a testament to him and his body of work. Instead of tearing everything down, Abloh began his work by redefining the design vocabulary of Louis Vuitton, using the collection as a statement to champion diversity as well as pay tribute to an icon of American pop-culture. In fact, to fully understand the collection, one just needs to follow the rainbow. The collection began with a wide spectrum of looks in white, before splitting into a spectrum of colour, and then finally revealing the inspiration behind the collection: the American classic, The Wizard of Oz.
Working with the design theorem of the three percent rule, the ratio needed to twist a normative object into something special, Abloh set about to present an updated take on the classic menswear silhouettes. Take, for example, how a tailored double-breasted jacket is paired with slouchy double-pleated trousers and finished off with a functional harness. The silhouette might be familiar, but it is different enough to see Abloh's effect on it.
Another highlight of the collection is the idea of 'accessomorphosis'—a term that the design team used to express the pieces that blurred the line between garments and leather bags—turning functionality into a styling element. Think of the leather vest that featured all the different iconic small leather goods of the house, shirts that have spacious pockets sewn onto the arm sleeves, as well as those iconic functional harnesses.
That’s not forgetting the different bags of the collection. Keeping in the tradition of updating the Keepall duffle bag every season, the spring/summer 2019 edition features a transparent heavy-duty plastic edition in various colours; including one in an eye-catching iridescent hue. But our favourite has to be Abloh’s take on the house’s iconic Petite Malle—the signature trunks shrunk to the size of a handbag. Using the three percent rule, the spring/summer edition of the Petite Malle is reimagined in monogram canvas and designed in a way that still allows it to hold its boxy signature shape, but as the main point of difference, is soft and malleable.
Ending the journey through Abloh’s Bifröst Bridge is the introduction of prints from the core ethos of the collection, The Wizard of Oz. Featuring Dorothy lying on a bed of roses, expressed in full technicolour and a monochromatic edition that resembles the texture of acid wash denim, the prints are expressed on anoraks, bomber jackets and, our favourite, a tailored suiting look.
While still in the early days of his tenure, Abloh’s appointment is a watershed moment for diversity, and more than just riding on hype, as many expected him to do, the collection was a celebration of the in-betweens: where normalcy and conceptual work can co-exist, where timeless and timely are intertwined, and where function and form are melded together.