Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

Giant lobster collars and teddy bear badges: Louis Vuitton's new menswear is offbeat

Some seriously clever tailoring carries cartoonish joy

Louis Vuitton's menswear designer Virgil Abloh didn't attend the brand's spring/summer 2021 menswear collection show in Shanghai last Thursday. In fact, none of the team from Paris were in attendance.

Rather than fly in a large team for the event, as is the norm for a fashion show, only the clothes were sent to China, meaning that everyone who worked on or attended the show was already in Shanghai. This was in line with precautions to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Nonetheless, the show, which ran to 60 looks, offered a much-needed sense of fun after so many difficult months. Bright colours, bold patterns and toys stitched into or even looming over the clothes: this was playtime for Abloh. It felt cartoonish, but then that was the point; the designer initially unveiled part of this collection in cartoon form last month.

On July 9, Louis Vuitton screened a short film featuring cartoon characters called Zoooom and his friends (see what they did there?) who stow away on a boat setting sail from Paris. This was called chapter one. The second chapter was the Shanghai show and a third is planned for September in Tokyo.

The cartoon characters seen in the short film are now, as showcased in Shanghai, made out of fabric as part of a jacket, a trench coat, or even as a sheepskin collar with a lobster draped around the neck. They have also been made into floppy charms, clinging onto a suitcase or worn as a brooch.

Louis Vuitton menswear spring summer 2021. Courtesy Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton menswear spring summer 2021. Courtesy Louis Vuitton

The show notes explains that by taking his show to sea, Abloh "embraces the global community of Louis Vuitton and meets his clients in their own parts of the world. Throughout its voyage – which may add destinations along the way – the collection will transform in an evolving exchange across cultures and nations".

This interchange between communities is important to Abloh, and in the same manifesto he writes of bearing the weight of the responsibility of being a "black man in a French luxury house. Rather than preaching about it, I hope to lead by example and unlock the door for future generations".”

During his time at Vuitton, Abloh has thrown his full weight behind supporting inclusivity at every level, and is vocal about helping men and women of colour rise in the industry. Finely attuned to his difference to the Parisian fashion set, he is even comfortable enough to riff on it, suggesting that Zooom may be an autobiographical character.

"This season’s story is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. You see, a motley crew of characters had arrived in Paris, one unrulier than the other. Zoooom with friends, they called them, for Zoooom was their guide and time travelled fast in their pace."

In addition, he is also shifting the house towards embracing recycling in its many forms. For the Shanghai show, Abloh even reconfigured the brand's famous logo into a recycling sign to drive the point home.

In the collection, 25 looks were made from recycled material and a further 25 were from ideas taken from the previous collection, “re-shown and remembered”.

The notes say the collection is "founded in four methods of upcycling: pieces upcycled by recycling material from overstock, pieces upcycled from recycled ideas, pieces upcycled through reiteration from the previous season, and pieces upcycled as part of the 'Homework' initiative – a free task of creativity Virgil Abloh set his studio designers during lockdown".

Ultimately, despite the skilful tailoring required to merge the toys into the clothing, many of these coats and jackets are unwearable by all but the most die-hard fashion fan. However, as a taste of a bigger idea, the show can be viewed as uplifting and filled with joy, while still touching on some very weighty issues. As Abloh picks up pace at Louis Vuitton and infuses his deep sense of inclusion through more of the house, it will be fascinating to see what chapter three delivers in Tokyo.

Louis Vuitton menswear spring summer 2021. Courtesy Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton menswear spring summer 2021. Courtesy Louis Vuitton

Updated: August 10, 2020 02:51 PM

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