When Virgil Abloh, the men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, first dropped images of his forthcoming collaboration with the Japanese DJ and designer Nigo back in March, the internet went resoundingly wild. Of course, the world looked significantly different then. We’d heard all about coronavirus, but it the World Health Organisation hadn’t yet classified it as a pandemic. That happened two days later. So while we were unsettled by the global growth of the virus, the rapturous reception pointed to the fact that that we are still mad for a creative collaboration, especially when it involves two of the world’s biggest names in streetwear and luxury. The cumulative cultural currency of Abloh and Nigo is exponential, after all, and it’s encapsulated in the LV2 collection, the bulk of which drops into stores this month.
Collaborations within the art-fashion nexus are, of course, so commonplace in 2020 as to be bordering on gimmicky. And yet Louis Vuitton – in its earlier incarnations under the direction of Marc Jacobs for its womenswear line and Kim Jones on the men’s side – is one of the earliest proponents of the practice, having perfected the approach through mega-scale partnerships with Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Jake and Dinos Chapman, among others, since the turn of the millennium. The success for Vuitton lies in the not only that it pushes the notion of collaboration beyond the reproduction of an artist’s print on fabric, but is in the unexpected nature of, say, one of its iconic leather handbags sprayed with fluorescent paint (as in the case of the Prince collaboration), or a knitted wool sweater emblazoned with a googly-eyed snow leopard (the Chapman brothers). It explains, too, the positive reception of the LV2 line, so unexpected is the output.
“What we were interested in investigating was less about us and more about what inspires us,” said Abloh in an exclusive interview with Esquire Singapore. “We’re not so linear to be like, ‘Oh, we both love streetwear so let’s do t-shirts and hoodies.’ That’s not where we’re at in 2020.” And indeed, rather than casual clothing conventions, this collection takes its cues from British Mod culture of the late 1950s, which itself finds its roots in the Teddy Boys aesthetic that emerged in the post-War period.
As is the history and ethos of the brand, travel is inherent in the design discovery phase of this collection. “The reason Nigo arrived at his premise is because he was a curious Japanese kid in the nineties, and a passionate collector, and the only way to satisfy your curiosity back then was to travel,” explains Abloh, citing punk music, and the dress codes of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. “Collaborations start with conversations, and [for this collection] we were interested in the dandy: how London Mods could meet Tokyo in a reinterpretation under the guise of Louis Vuitton. It strikes a chord with the essence of the house, which is travel and cross-pollination.”
While the resultant garments and accessories do adopt a certain mid-century aesthetic – a grayscale checkerboard print is prevalent in the slim-line wool tailoring, which pairs with steel-capped leather derby shoes and skinny ties – there’s also subtleties that add a subversion to the collection. The patchwork denim, for example, which presents itself in the form of more casual jackets and bucket hats nods to Boro stitching, a Japanese form of hand-mending or personalising garments or textiles. “[Nigo] would come back with the fashion from London and wear it in Tokyo when he was DJing, creating this crossover of fashion and culture. We wanted to tell that story.”
Unlike previous collaborations within the house, the Louis Vuitton and Nigo partnership is a standalone collection that doesn’t fall under the traditional seasonal cycle. According to Abloh, this creates an opportunity for more significant creative exploration, and also marks the full cycle evolution of the nature of Nigo’s collaborations over the years, which have included Uniqlo and Pharrell Williams (via Billionaire Boys Club), in addition to his own label, A Bathing Ape. “Nigo is a cult figure of an esoteric sector of fashion popularly defined as streetwear, which was made up of sports elements, luxury and art. He was doing this ten years before everyone else, before the coalescence of luxury and street was ever a concept. Staging this collaborative survey under the hallowed name of Louis Vuitton brings the evolution of that concept full circle.”
That Louis Vuitton and Nigo not wedded to seasonal product releases suggests there’s room for longer-term collaboration, although Abloh is tight-lipped about the prospects of future drops, which has the effect of adding to its potential appeal. “This represents a coming together of two people who appreciated this house long before we worked in it,” he says. “Two people who didn’t go to fashion school but came through a different door, which was about brands and what branding means. In that sense, the iconography of Louis Vuitton is apparent in both our independent bodies of work, and LV2 signifies a squaring that creates a new dimension.”
The Louis Vuitton x Nigo collaboration, LV2, is available from Louis Vuitton boutiques and online now.