‘Tis the season of the mega-collaboration.
Just hours after Dior revealed it was teaming up with Travis Scott on its spring 2022 men’s collection, Louis Vuitton dropped another bombshell during Paris Fashion Week: The French luxury brand has partnered with Nike on new versions of its iconic Air Force 1 sneakers.
The shoes, which come in 21 colorways, were unveiled on Thursday as part of Virgil Abloh’s men’s collection for Vuitton, but additional details were scarce. Asked whether they would be made available for sale, the house merely said: “Stay tuned for more details.”
The launch marks a full-circle moment in hip-hop culture. Abloh, who has a highly successful collaboration with Nike through his Off-White label, was inspired by the cover of the 1988 album “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. It shows E-Z Rock wearing a Nike Air Force 1 basketball trainer altered with a swoosh adorned in the Louis Vuitton monogram.
“The cover embodied the hip-hop community’s early practice of hacking together high fashion and sportswear, sidelining diverging brands with equal reverence. A cultural symbol in its own right, today the Nike Air Force 1 serves as an objet d’art emblematic of self-generated subcultural provenance,” Vuitton said in its collection notes.
Or as Outfitgrid founder Dennis Todisco commented on Instagram: “When the fake becomes real.”
For Abloh, the U.S.-born son of Ghanaian immigrants, it’s yet another chapter in a narrative that has seen him rise from outsider to kingmaker. He acknowledged as much in a short speech to his team, gathered in a cinema in Paris for the premiere of his collection film, titled “Amen Break” after a famous drum sample.
“Fashion can make you feel like things are impossible. We’re a part of a team that can make people feel a specific way. And through this body of work that we’re about to see on the screen, we deconstruct and dissolve and melt away this idea that fashion is elitist, or fashion is for only a select few,” he said.
Indeed, Abloh has blown open the gates of luxury to a whole new category of participant, from the kids who line up for his sneaker drops to the talent that takes part in his shows.
Musicians GZA, Goldie, Saul Williams, Lupe Fiasco and Shabaka Hutchings appear in the film alongside “Les Misérables” actor Issa Perica, in a storyline inspired by the classic Japanese kung fu film “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Chess is a sub-plot, inspired by the cover of GZA’s seminal album “Liquid Swords,” as well as Vuitton’s signature Damier motif.
In fashion terms, the theme translated into a plethora of check motifs, on items ranging from luxed-up track suits to tailored suit jackets paired with floor-length skirts, in a nod to traditional garments ranging from kilts to kendo uniforms. Checkered bodysuits served as an underpinning for a fuchsia suit, a silver foil jacket and pants, and sober black outfits inspired by martial arts garb.
The central idea was a confrontation between tailoring and trackpants, which materialized into a human chess game — though there was ultimately no winner. “I’m not choosing between one or the other. My signature is both,” Abloh said, noting that the logo of the film contains a yin-yang emblem. “That symbol fits perfectly in my canon.”
Hence the leap between his new-gen suits — think short, belted jacket and pooling pants — and the raver elements in the collection, including airbrushed monogram-embossed leather jackets, and an outfit pieced together from rainbow-colored flyers printed on leather, featuring the logo of Goldie’s record label Metalheadz.
Abloh said he wasn’t playing along traditional gender lines either. “We have straight-up A-line skirts. It’s liberating in 2021,” he said, pointing to a black-and-white rain jacket worn over a hoop skirt. The designer considers the natural evolution of a year that has seen social issues from Black Lives Matter to trans rights take center stage.
“The next thing in fashion isn’t in fashion. It’s in people, it’s in the atmosphere, it’s in the streets, it’s in the socio-political,” he said. “Decision, gender, diversity: those aren’t even hot topics. That’s top line. That’s already been established. Now, it’s developing men’s wear into showing the freedom that can be.”
Now on his seventh collection for the house, Abloh feels increasingly legitimate in delivering his point of view. “I’m older, so I don’t feel the fear of being young and trying to stake a claim or aim high,” he said. Yet the striver in him is never far below the surface: by bringing the bootleg back to the source, he’s scored yet another win for the culture.