Louis Vuitton Men’s collection by Virgil Abloh Spring-Summer 2021
Louis Vuitton Men’s collection by Virgil Abloh Spring-Summer 2021 ‘Myth vs. Reality: The Full Story’ Chicago, IL, September 2020.
“The more mundane the xed text, the more dramatic is the Signifyin(g) revision. It is this principle of repetition and difference, this practice of intertextuality, which has been so crucial to black vernacular forms of Signifyin(g), jazz and its antecedents, the blues, spirituals, and ragtime. Signifyin(g) is so fundamentally black...so shared in [our] culture as to have long ago become second nature to its users.” – Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African- American Literary Criticism, 1988.
“The narrative of direct cause and effect, the lapsarian before and after, of heroic origin and farcical repetition, will no longer do. Many of us recite this narrative without much thought – but with great condescension toward the very possibility of contemporary art. “ – Hal Foster, Who’s Afraid of the Neo-Avant-Garde?, 1994.
In the fall of 2019, on a life-related hiatus, Virgil Abloh found himself introspective at home for an extended period of time after several years of non-stop travel and continuous work. He spent this time around his mother and father saturated in his Ghanaian heritage and childhood memories. He decided that moving forward, the creative premises of his work at Louis Vuitton would spring directly from his cultural heritage. His work would visualise unapologetic Black Imagination in an autobiographical and deeply personal voice. A second-gener-ation African-American, Abloh’s Ghanaian-born parents draped his childhood in a cultural tapestry of Kente cloth, hand-carvedgurines, wooden masks, and the iconography of spirituality. That winter, he approached his mother Eunice with an idea. Soon, Mrs Abloh commissioned a series of traditional wooden sculptures from family artisans in the Arts Centre market in Accra, Ghana. Imagined by her son, the artefacts fused the properties of West African art with the characteristics of Louis Vuitton. These works of art created the foundation for his Spring-Summer 2021 collection.
Now, Abloh’s every point of inspiration came to life through the lens of his childhood. Slender suiting, broad shoulders, and surreal accessories and motifs reminded him of the way Ghanaian men – his father in- cluded – dressed in the 1970s. These men came of age in the early years of Ghanaian independence from colonial rule and used the symbolic power of style and tailoring to express newfound power and freedom. Abloh drew parallels to ska, two tone and the African diaspora’s manifestation in the Jamaican elements adopted by British subculture, as well as the patterns and silhouettes of La Sape, the dandies of Kinshasaand Brazzaville. In the red, yellow and green of the Ghanaian and Ethiopian ags, Abloh recognisedthe wardrobes associated with Rasta and reggae.
Shopping for his children in a toy store in Paris in January 2020, he caught a glimpse of him-self in a mirror, his pockets stuffed with puppets of all shapes and colours. They made him think of the carved masks, gurines and dollshe knew from Ghana, and references he recognised from the Louis Vuitton genetics: a teddy bear designed by Marc Jacobs for the Spring-Summer 2005 Men’s collection, and the Maroquinaris. Zoologicae series of small leather goods created for the house by Billie Achilleos in 2011.
Organically, the colourful characters of ‘Zoooom with friends’came to life, animating garments and accessories throughout his collection. Abloh based each character on real people in his life who accompanied him on his journey since his first days in the Louis Vuitton offices. The symbiosis of inspirations that informed the puppets made Abloh contemplate the cultural and sub-cultural belonging we ascribe to the things that inspire us: the territorialism of inspirations, and the myths of derivation wecreate around objects, references and people. In the tradition of Thomas Mann, myths are stories spun from collective memory. They are tools for authors and artists, which transcend the existing and allow for the creation of something new. “I have never tried to produce the illusion that I am the source of the history of Joseph,” Mann said of his bildungsroman Joseph and His Brothers published 1933-43. “Before it could be told, it happened, it sprang from the source from which all history springs, and tells itself as it goes.”
A suit painted in clouds reminds some of Magritte and others of Raphael, but in the eyes of a child, does it not belong to a skygazed upon mutuallyacross the globe? In his essay The Myth of Originality in Contemporary Art from 1964, the sculptor David Hare re ects on theoriginality of familiar and age-old imagery in art. “A Rembrandt cow has little resemblance to a Dubu etcow and neither of them are art because of the cow, who [...] is hermetically original. More simply, man’s originality is comparative, whereas God’s may notbe.” He further argues: “Once an artist begins to use originali- ty as an attribute which is his, once the public begins to go out of their way to look for it, its meaning is lost.”