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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

Virgil Abloh's autobiographical menswear collection for Louis Vuitton – in pictures

The American designer delivers an outstanding collection for autumn / winter 2021

Through his latest menswear show for Louis Vuitton, creative director Virgil Abloh has delivered an astonishing and deeply autobiographical collection.

Abloh has explored what it is to be a black man today, through ideas of conformity, ownership and creativity. It is a riff on the work of American writer James Baldwin, and specifically his essay Stranger in the Village, which details the different reactions to a black man in America and a mountainous Swiss town.

With dazzling tailoring, durags and jackets made into architecture, the collection looked to his own experiences as a man of Ghanaian heritage growing up in America, and now heading a French fashion house.

Western cowboy hats made an appearance, as did richly coloured back-strap-loomed African kente cloths, and even Scottish tartans, over house codes of the Louis Vuitton monogram panelled into jackets, woven into overcoats and even appearing as an airplane-shaped holdall.

A model is wrapped in a kente cloth, as part of the autumn / winter 2021 collection by Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton. Courtesy Louis Vuitton
A model is wrapped in a kente cloth, as part of the autumn / winter 2021 collection by Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton. Courtesy Louis Vuitton

The collection, entitled Ebonics / Snake Oil / The Black Box / Mirror, Mirror, opened with an overcoat worn by American singer-songwriter Saul Williams, who also voices the accompanying film, fastened with aircraft-shaped buttons.

It moved through some truly beautiful tailoring; from simple, double-breasted suits to coats that pool on the floor, and from street wear in ultra luxe finishes to motorbike leathers decorated with a vaguely Ghanaian wax print pattern.

Durags were worn under trilby hats and on top of sharp suiting, and there were even jackets featuring skyscrapers of New York, the Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower of Paris. These were quirky, and almost out of place amid the rest of the deeply thoughtful array, but instead speak of Abloh's desire to appeal to a younger crowd, as he knows they will garner the social media hits.

In the accompanying film, directed by Josh Johnson, the spoken narrative is blistering. Williams is centre stage, reciting a long list of people and events that have shaped the modern world, from Shakespeare to Jimmy Hendrix and Gandhi. Poised and powerful, we watch him move through a constructed space as the other models sail past him. Another narrator, the British poet and activist Kai Isaiah Jamal, urges that “as marginalised people, the world is here for our taking, for it takes so much from us”.

Many of the pieces come adorned with slogans by the conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, who brings his wordplay to high fashion. Bags come emblazoned with "tourist vs purist", "the same place at the same time" and "you can tell a book by its cover".

In this, his sixth outing for Louis Vuitton, Abloh uses the collection to tackle the thorny issue of racism, using an almost entirely black and non-white line-up of models.

A Western cowboy hats tops a quilted coat, for autumn / winter 2021, at Louis Vuitton. Courtesy Louis Vuitton
A Western cowboy hat tops a quilted coat, for autumn / winter 2021, at Louis Vuitton. Courtesy Louis Vuitton

Before the show, the virtual invitation arrived written on a paper coffee cup, a move explained in the accompanying show notes. "Who came up with the paper cup?" the notes ask. "The metal nail? The pencil? It begs the question of who can claim creation: who gets to make art, and who gets to consume it."

In answer, Abloh has created a breathtaking collection that speaks eloquently and beautifully of an unending quest to be seen.

Updated: January 24, 2021 07:26 PM

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