Louis Vuitton Men’s collection by Virgil Abloh Fall-Winter 2021
“Within my practice, I contribute to a Black canon of culture and art and its preservation. This is why, to preserve my own output, I record it at length.” –Virgil Abloh, A manifesto according to Virgil Abloh, 2020.
What do you want to be when you grow up? As children, our dreamsand aspirations are personi ed by archetypes: the Artist, theSalesman, the Architect, the Drifter. Familiar characters in ev-eryday society, they are inseparably de ned by their uniforms:the dress codes we associate with professions, lifestyles and knowledge. From head to toe, our minds are inherently trained to outline an archetypical wardrobe to help us identify the character of an individual. Often, these characters are tied to societal presumptions of cultural background, gender, and sexuality.
The Louis Vuitton Fall-Winter 2021 Men’s Collection investigates the unconscious biases instilled in our collective psyche by the archaic norms of society. Predetermined perceptions, they imbue our outlooks with manmade myths connected to the genetics of peo- ple, ideas and art. Men’s Artistic Director Virgil Abloh employsfashion as a tool to change those preconceptions: keep the codes,but change the values.
The logic respects Black cultural traditions that use gures of speech (irony, punning, ri ing) to play with or reverse the conno- tations of established codes. These techniques create new meanings and subvert established canons; for example, the way a standardEnglish phrase may have an entirely di erent meaning in Blackvernacular English. Virgil Abloh applies these techniques to his design methodology, imbuing the grammar of recognised archetypeswith di erent genetics.
Informed by James Baldwin’s essay Stranger in the Village from 1953, which deals with the parallels between the author’s experi- ences as an African-American man in a Swiss village and his life in America, the show takes place between locations in Switzerlandand Paris. The frames of the performance revolve around the gu-rative notion of the art heist: the myths spun by society aroundorigin and ownership of art, visual references and those who cre-ate. (See: ‘The Performance Art Piece’.)
The conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner constructs a series of aph-orisms-as-patterns tied to these premises: “YOU CAN TELL A BOOK BYITS COVER”, “THE SAME PLACE AT THE SAME TIME”, “( SOMEWHERE SOME-HOW )”. Throughout garments and accessories, motifs and techniques play on themes of illusion, replicating the familiar through the deceptive lenses of trompe l’oeil and ltrage, and re-appropriat- ing the normal through extreme elevation. It fuels a study of the un-designed: items devoid of artisticownership and exact historical provenance. The physical show in-vitation is embodied by a balsa wood DIY model plane, an eternalsymbol of boyhood devoid of artistic ownership. Who came up with the paper cup? The metal nail? The pencil? It begs the questionof who can claim creation: who gets to make art, and who gets toconsume it. Conceived outside the art sphere, un-designed and es- sentially “normal” items represent a public domain continuously reinvented and claimed by the sector of art.
As a result, normality is accentuated: the slumber we slip intofollowing periods of social unrest. What does normality look like, what does it mean, and who has the optional privilege to embody it? Virgil Abloh brings his established idea of “Tourist vs. Pur-ist” to the forefront: his term for the outsider, who aspirestowards an esoteric domain of knowledge versus the insider, who already occupies it. The collection detects their respective codes in order to defy and unite them.
In a social climate hankering for a new normal that breaks with the archaic structure of society, archetypes become neotypes. Ifan artist doesn’t ful l our predetermined image of an artist, doesit make them any less of an artist? If a reference that originated in the sphere of the Tourist is altered into a new piece of art,can the Purist claim ownership of that reference? If Kente cloth– the fabric of Virgil Abloh’s cultural heritage – is rendered intartan, does that make Kente any less Ghanaian and tartan any less Scottish? Provenance is reality, while ownership is myth: manmadeinventions now ripe for re-invention.