Welcoming a new creative lead could mean a reinterpretation of a fashion house’s DNA as much as it does an era, as far as artistic direction is concerned. For Louis Vuitton, its SS19 men’s collection that was recently launched at its flagship store in Kuala Lumpur defines a new chapter for the brand through his unique viewpoint.
Appointed in March last year, artistic director Virgil Abloh’s debut collection brings a fresh outlook on high-end fashion that is likely to appeal to Louis Vuitton’s younger crowd of consumers. For them, their earliest contact with the French fashion house’s creations would have been its iconic monogrammed leather goods. However, there is an expectation that the brand’s offerings cater towards a varied appetite for design, as this new generation of Louis Vuitton fans comes into their own. This is something that Abloh delivers in the latest collection. It also comes as no surprise that the totems of streetwear, namely hoodies and sneakers, which the designer of Off-White fame is not unfamiliar with, feature predominantly in this collection with a luxe touch.
The complete SS19 men’s range made its first appearance at Paris’s Jardin de Palais Royal last year, with models strutting down a rainbow runway. Besides referencing the song Somewhere over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz, elements of which can be found in many of the pieces, it was a nod to social inclusivity as well. Rainbow hues are also seen on the tie-dyed printed silk organza oversized shirt and the iridescent Keepall bag, adding a dash of colour to the otherwise monochromatic palette.
A purple jacquard crew neck jumper as well as its handknitted and embroidered variation both display silhouettes of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, in keeping with the theme. Yet, special attention is paid to Dorothy, whom the artistic director describes as an outsider, who soon discovers she was taken to Oz for a reason — possibly a sentiment drawn from his personal experience of often being referred to as an outsider and disruptor of the fashion industry. A nylon printed hooded anorak and printed silk organza classic shirt are some examples featuring Dorothy surrounded by poppies — a motif which some critics liken to that of the traditional West African garb of his Ghanaian seamstress mother.
While Abloh does not possess a traditional background in fashion, the civil engineering graduate, who went on to pursue an MA in architecture, has dabbled in it over the years. Having reportedly worked closely with rapper and Yeezy designer Kanye West as a creative consultant and famously interning at Fendi in Rome with West, it was not until the founding of his first brand, the now ceased Pyrex Vision, that Abloh arguably cut his teeth in the industry. His first fashion brand attracted some level of controversy, yet his current endeavour that followed a year later — high-end streetwear label, Off-White — was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers. In some ways, his unconventional path into the fashion scene is reflected in the numerous design elements featured in this collection, as the new leading man of Louis Vuitton makes his mark.
Meanwhile, the portmanteau “accessomorphosis” describes the transformation of an accessory into a garment, effectively evolving its functional form in an effort to promote utilitarianism. Some examples are the white technical cotton belted shirt, white embossed monogram leather vest, fluorescent orange ribbed vest and black technical poplin shirt, all with archive pockets on them.
Drawing from his varied skill set and experience, his SS19 men’s collection offers a lot to take in, as Abloh remarks on the luxury brand’s legacy of over a century and a half. In fact, there are so many elements to the collection that visitors to the show were provided with notes explaining “The vocabulary according to Virgil Abloh”, as it was called. These notes cheekily define exposure as “an apparatus recognised by designers in the social media age of fashion. Can lead to artistic director positions at Louis Vuitton.”
But on a more serious note, Abloh propounds the idea of a 3% methodology, that he says is the exact ratio needed to twist a normative object into something special. To achieve this, attention is paid to the minute details. For instance, clipped ends replace the sharp corners of a collar, fluorescent yellow laces are placed on white formal derbies and link chins are attached to bags — all of which allude to the 3% ratio that the designer believes may give each piece an edge.
Seeing that this is Abloh’s debut collection, it will be interesting to see what elements reoccur in the following collections and if they will go on to become known as his signature style. For now, based on the elaborate explanation of his ideas in “The Virgil vocabulary” and his statement-making creations — the message rings loud and clear: Virgil Abloh was here.
This article first appeared on Feb 4, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.