Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2021 Shanghai

Virgil Abloh put on a playful and zany parade filled with a childlike sense of wonder for his first blended show format.

Virgil Abloh presents the first stop of his new #LouisVuitton collection’s virtual and literal voyage across the globe. From the Maison’s ancestral home outside of Paris, the colorful crew of animated characters have travelled as stowaways on the collection’s shipping containers all the way to the docks of Shanghai.

“Really, it’s like documenting me and my motley crew of friends,” Virgil Abloh said on a call from Chicago yesterday, ahead of the men’s Louis Vuitton show that took place on a dock in Shanghai today.

Abloh was discussing the many-stranded thought processes woven into the material and symbolism, and the all-Black collaborators—animators, musicians, and the stylist Ibrahim Kamara—whom he brought in during quarantine, his response to what he described as “these tumultuous times…this year of reckoning.”

Louis Vuitton Men’s Spring-Summer 2021 Show in Shanghai

The event was an actual live old-normal “experiential” spectacular, held in front of local guests who were sitting in rows just as audiences always used to before April, not wearing masks. Models were also locally cast. “Gatherings are safe over there,” he noted. Yet neither the creative director, now at home in America, nor anyone from L.V.’s Paris headquarters had traveled to China.

Only the clothes crossed continents. And this is where Abloh took up the story line, which began within the animation Zoooom With Friends, a video populated with cartoon animal “stowaways” who’d jumped aboard L.V. shipping containers. They were last seen in July, floating away on a barge along the Seine at the end of the wildly popular YouTube project he’d commissioned from the Black animation director Reggie Know in L.A.

Today the barge had docked, and the models were livestreamed walking from real shipping containers stacked on the Shanghai port, and a connected pontoon floating in the river. “Three or four weeks ago, Ibrahim Kamara and I styled and packed everything in Paris and sent it off as you see it.” There was an opening parade of men in turquoise overalls and matching bandana face masks holding aloft clouds and seagulls.

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Giant inflatables of the L.V. cartoon creatures lounged on the red-painted sea containers.

And so proceeded the collection that stylistically circled back to reconfirm the spirit of everything Abloh has done at the house since spring 2019—beginning with classic-modern suiting and ending with the fractured tailoring and Magritte-like blue sky and cloud prints from last fall—but then springboarded it forward into what he described as “hypnovisualism”: affirmation of the Black imagination.

The definition of that psychological free-state was set out in his show notes: “A wonderland of inclusivity and unity, it imagines the world through the untainted vision of a child, not yet spoiled by societal programming.” In the depths of the anger about the murder of George Floyd, the change Abloh stands behind is with Sun Ra’s Afrofuturism, the power of “imagining a different world”—materialized in the trippy genius of sunglasses made with mismatched frames, and in the shape of the flower icon extracted from the classic L.V. print.

In Abloh’s imagination, the continuum fused with his own Ghanian heritage, and with thinking about his responsibility as a Black father. “I have kids that have to live in our collective wake,” he said. “And obviously, I don’t want them to experience the collective ills we’ve had to live with.” The stuffed-toy cartoon imagery, which was all over the production—turning up in 3D, pinned to primary-colored jackets, and peeping from bags—is a trope that tracks back to a day when he was out “buying gifts for my kids.”

At the top of the seasonal alphabet that he sends out came highly telling biographical tributes to his parents. “Abloh, Eunice: the mother of Virgil Abloh, grew up in the center of Accra, Ghana. After meeting Nee Abloh, she joined him in Rockford, Illinois, in 1973, where she worked as a seamstress. Eunice taught her son how to use a sewing machine, to always work hard, and stay compassionate.”

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“Abloh, Nee: the father of Virgil Abloh, grew up in the coastal city of Tema, Ghana, and worked in the Accra docks unloading shipping containers.”

Echoes within echoes! Not everything is always visible on the surface of what Abloh does, but that’s the methodology he owns: “Nuance is my game. My voice is a multitude of layers and references.” Further along into the collection, he thought about the fusion of Jamaican ska and the British multiracial two tone music of the ’70s and ’80s—hence psychedelic black-and-white checkerboard prints, which then made a smart Vuitton segue into Damier-checked suits and slip-on shoes. There was a sweatshirt striped in the green, yellow, and red colors of the Rastafarian flag; broad-shoulder tailoring constructed in honor of his father. “I’m thinking, I’m Ghanaian—how do you make an African suit?”

There was more. One of the accompanying documents which arrived with the show was named “Upcycling Ideology,” setting out the explanation behind the familiar-looking opening passage. Some of the pieces, it transpires, were made of recycled overstock fabric. Others were “upcycled from recycled ideas” or “reiterations from the previous season.” The pause of quarantine had given Abloh “time to question the status quo of fashion. I got to be a lot more thoughtful about man’s relationship to earth. I decided there’s so much placed on ‘the new’ in fashion. I’m saying to my consumer that value doesn’t deteriorate over time.”

If there was an overarching principle, it was surely the meaning of values—in culture, in what matters about how one acts in a leadership position in society. Midway through the show, a screen appeared in the side of a container to reveal a filmed performance by Lauryn Hill, a rare coup which is based, as Abloh announced in a video finale, in a collaboration with the MLH Foundation, “to benefit Black businesses affected by COVID-19 and other hardships.”

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What does this have to do with the display of luxury fashion? To Virgil Abloh, the time has come when using the power of his platform has superseded that. “Fashion is being held to do something now that is not just a projection of clothes,” he concluded in his call from Chicago. “There’s a responsibility to show a way forward.”

Directed by @virgilabloh
Director of Animation: Reggie Know (@fashionfigureinc)
Musical score by The SA-RA Creative Partners™️ @saracreativepartnersinfo (@tazarnold@shafiqhusayn & @ommaskeith)
Featuring: Gary Bartz @bartzoyo
Musical Direction by @_benjib & @virgilabloh
Voice over : @tierrawhack & @buddy

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