Storytelling is part of every fashion show, but to Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton it takes on greater meaning. Possibly because, in his role as the Paris house’s Men’s Artistic Director, he’s not cut from the standard mold - the first African American man to helm a historic fashion house, a DJ, streetwear titan and sometime furniture designer on the side.
So his approach to a fashion show involves some epic scene-setting - taking over an entire square in the Pont Neuf, constructing downtown 80s Brooklyn in the Tuileries Garden - as well as a weighty amount of literature that forms his musings on the collection.
So it made sense that Abloh, for his spring/summer 2021 show, wouldn’t follow other brands down the digital route. Instead he staged a full-scale fashion show on the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai, with giant inflatable balloons floating overhead like the fanciest kid’s party you ever did see. When the world is all doom and gloom, trust Abloh to turn things into a funfare, if only for a moment.
While Abloh cut his teeth in the streetwear arena, at his own label Off-White, he’s slowly evolved his tailoring output at Vuitton into something interesting and refined.
This continued in the Shanghai showcase in the form of vividly coloured suits with contrasting shirts - cobalt blue against yellow, the black and grey Damier print against shocking pink. These came dotted with soft toys, lest things get too serious, as well as skewiff sunglasses.
A childlike sense of playfulness has infused Abloh’s collections in the past - that Pont Neuf spectacle involved a giant bouncy castle - and those soft toy figurines became a recurring theme, bouncing merrily across padded puffa jackets or on blazers.
Those elements in particular - as well as the sunglasses - caught the eye of Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck, who shared posts on his Instagram claiming they were copies of his work. Social media does love a ‘call out’ frenzy.
Abloh might employ the finest materials at his disposal, but his collections never take themselves too seriously - there were oversized stove pipe hats, eclectic prints, jangling add-ons and, for a finale, an inflatable monster wrapped around the model.
However some of the strongest elements of his spring offering were the quieter, more minimalist clothes - the streamlined coats in searingly bright colours, the lean, narrow suits and slimmer proportions, a departure from the baggy shapes that Abloh’s been accustomed to previously.
We might not be able to venture into Abloh’s world in person, but this big and bold fanfare of a showcase in Shanghai did its best to give a window on his point of view. Further than that, it felt like the good old days of spectacular shows in far-flung locations, before lockdown, distancing and digital first became our way of life. That's something to cheer about.
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