Louis Vuitton Wants You to Wear Something Different, Maybe Strange, and Always Cool
For his next trick, Virgil Abloh, artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, continues to shake up what you think men's clothes should be. In his fall 2019 collection (in stores starting August 1) and the spring 2020 collection (fresh of Paris), he reconfigures the suit, adding another layer here and softening the edges there, to give it a brand new feeling.
Abloh's appointment in 2018 signaled a change at the French label. The African-American designer, with his non-traditional fashion background and multi-hyphenate status as Off-White designer, Friend of Kanye, sometimes DJ, and all-around creative, is the perfect choice to keep the luxury house firmly within the ever-changing and sometimes confusing fashion scene and, more important, at its vanguard.
Admittedly, his first collection took a little getting used to, especially for longtime observers of the brand. The roomy fits, the rainbow hues, that divisive man harness, and the in-your-face street appeal that walked down Palais Royal last year was a departure from the version of luxury that his predecessor Kim Jones had crafted.
But never mind all that. The debut was a hit, both commercially (parent company LVMH earned over $14 billion in the first quarter of the year) and critically. No doubt, the Illinois-native was doing something fresh for the Paris luxury house. In short, Abloh made you look.
Lunch hour in Tokyo is spooky. The many windows of its many buildings are looking down on sidewalks filled with no one. Cars move automatically as if they are on tracks. Rain takes care to fall ever so politely.
On a side street facing the river, the Amana Kaigan Studio at Shinagawa-ku is the destination for today's very important affair: an up-close-and-personal viewing of the fall/winter 2019 collection. A massive freight elevator takes you to the show space. Like a giant oven, it hums as it makes its journey skyward, and when its metal door rolls up, the latest delights of Louis Vuitton unfold before you.
You feel super cool, but you are most likely the least cool person here. The powers-that-be have decided the power belongs to shiny opinion leaders, those magnificent online creatures who attract likes and views like lint to a fuzzy shirt.
They're so pretty! Here's one cocking her head ever so slightly, twisting her body just so, and giving major face to the cameras. Behind her is a spread made especially for the purpose, a tableau of luxury artifacts arranged on a yellow-and-black checkerboard floor that will surely pop when viewed as a tiny square on your mobile phone screen.
The buzzy faces (there might be a legit celebrity around here) are as arresting as the pieces designed by creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere. His womenswear collections have a very particular point of view, and that point of view is fashion with a capital F: psychedelic flower prints, aggressive ruffles, a kimono-style jacket but in a grandma quilt fabric.
The show minders solemnly say these were inspired by the multitude of people who congregate at Centre Pompidou, the largest museum in Europe. Plus a dose of the '80s.
Thank you very much. We love it.
In a quieter section, closed off and tucked away from the flash of phone cameras, the men's clothes are found. But even if they are presented in a less showy manner, the forward-looking attitude that hums throughout the fashion house is apparent.
At pride of place, beside a collection of translucent neon bags covered, of course, with the Monogram, is a mannequin dressed in a dove gray suit. The color might just be the most traditional element of this set, which upon closer inspection features folds, flaps, and whatnots in its combination of jacket, vest, and trousers (with a slit).
Inspired by the zoot suit of the '40s, that voluminous version of the immortal men's uniform, the suiting in the collection reflects the direction in which menswear has been running toward for the past seasons: loose and big, soft and free.
The new proportion may give you pause. If you are the average man who just wants to look not horrible and even wonderful in a suit, the idea that trousers should flow unfettered over legs or that a jacket should possess a stylistic drape is scary.
Our advice: Go with it. While the style will take a while to fully take hold, the days of the tight and trim are drawing to a close. Even the suit, which is impervious to the moods of fashion, will find some way to adjust itself.
On a white metal rack, another piece explores the idea with two layers: one, a sleeveless vest in the traditional length, and the other, an abbreviated jacket with a ribbed hem, the same elastic detail you find on, say, a bomber. It conjures the image of a man putting on a jacket—the first one he gets his hands on as he rushes out the door—on top of his suit. The effect, a mix of lengths and moods, is slick.
Two things: The elastic hem makes the topper look like an inverted pair of basketball shorts, which is, at once, funny and clever. Also, we have to go back to the color. The gray really is the correct choice as it anchors the new cut to the ideal of the working man in a suit. Its soberness makes what may be scary wearable, almost normal even. We imagine the two-in-one on a man in full control of a chic cocktail party or just, you know, at his office desk. Beautiful clothes should be worn always.
Fashion creates beauty, but it is also, especially at this level of expression, a vehicle to explore truths. The theme of inclusivity, which was introduced in Abloh's debut collection, continues in this second run.
It is found everywhere, from the softer tailoring of the suits to the graphic rainbow accents, in the shape of an X or the outline of a rectangle, on the black leather of the Horizon luggage, the Keepall, a backpack, and more.
When Abloh tags the recognizable goods of Louis Vuitton with a rainbow, he exalts the universal symbol for different kinds of people living in harmony. It is a far-off ideal but every reminder that we should work together instead of dragging each other down is most welcome, even if it is just a flourish on a bag.
The idea is spun elsewhere. A zoot-style jacket draws the eye with its overblown houndstooth pattern, but when you look closer, you realize that the pattern is made of an image of Africa repeated over and over again. Checknetics is what the artistic director calls it, and the term is just one of many that he uses to highlight both technique and message weaved into the clothes.
Flagification is another buzz word. The show minders relay how Abloh wanted to create a piece of clothing that represented all the people that work in the Louis Vuitton studio, and so there is an oversized shirt, a tunic really, festooned with flags from different nations. As if an antidote to the grays, the piece explodes with joy.
The tunic shirt is also made out of soft lambskin. We'll let your brain process that for a moment, so that you can discern the level of skill it required to first, color the leathers in very vibrant shades and next, piece the various flags together into a seamless unit.
The piece, together with the engineering of the zoot suits and other flexes in technique, such as a fully beaded pullover reminiscent of couture, proves that Abloh is not playing around.
Confession: It's really a treat to see runway clothes up close, and even more of a moment when you are left alone with them. A swaggy male influencer, in the cool uniform of just-a-T-shirt, has wrapped up his mini photo session, and now you can do what you want. You run your fingers over the different fabrics—smooth, buttery, rubbery, slippery, rough, dotty (beads)—of the many clothes hung on several racks over and over and over again.
There are a lot of elements to consider, but you realize a quality of emotion unifies everything. The best creations, whether a fashion collection or a cake or a boring love song, is drawn from the lens of personal experience.
A military-style jacket, fully covered in the Monogram, feels as if it was made for posturing in the arena of Instagram, but the piece really looks back to a particular moment in Abloh's life, when, as a young dreamer, all he could afford from the French fashion house were its small leather goods.
And so the jacket is littered with first buys: a pouch, a clutch, and a small bag are fused on its front; bag straps are reworked as sashes; a full-size envelope is attached on its back. Abloh calls it Accessomorphosis, and we can imagine all his young fans banging their heads on the wall, trying to figure out how they can get their hands on the major flex before realizing they should just start with an LV cardholder.
Elsewhere, a comically puffy puffer wants to wrap itself around you, cradling your body like the security blanket from your childhood. The technique here is a special heat process, which resulted in the ridges and depressions of the chunky 3D monogram, but the emotion is feeling the weight of a hug all around you.
More than technique and flexing, rainbows and folds, this is more important. If you are not compelled by the nowness soaked in these clothes, you will be moved by a memory.
The fall/winter 2019 collection is now available at Louis Vuitton, Greenbelt 4, Makati City and Solaire Resorts & Casino, Parañaque City.