Resurgence is the mantra of our moment in time. Carried by hope, it conveys the act of surging: rising up, uprising, progressing. Some solve crossword puzzles. Nuance is my game. The term “manifesto” comes from the Latin word for “obvious”.
Stating the obvious is not in my nature, but I am a believer in the power of documentation. As I restart my engines at Louis Vuitton and take off for a future of new possibility, I look back at my port of departure. Under my artistic direction, I see my Louis Vuitton Men’s collections as my platform of nuance. I strive to employ fashion to reflect and affect ideals of inclusivity, unity and humanity. Through nuance, I believe in making my mark with poise, style and grace.
It’s my desire to imbue the traditional codes of luxury with my own progressive values. Nuance, like sarcasm, can be difficult to understand. Every season, my team updates ‘The vocabulary according to Virgil Abloh: A liberal definition of terms and explanation of ideas’. Under ‘I’ for ‘Irony’: “The presence of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton.” For all intents and nuances, I have often spelled out the interceptive reality of myself as a Black man in a French luxury house. I am well aware of my responsibilities. Rather than preaching about it, I hope to lead by example and unlock the door for future generations.
Using the language of nuance, I hope the imagery speaks for itself: Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz as an ironic parallel to my journey into the fashion establishment (and a pendant to The Wiz, which re-appropriated the film with an all-Black cast); Black musical icons as humanitarians whose appeals unify race, gender, culture and creed; Flower fields as a metaphor for diversity and a symbol of traditional Parisian confection; Heaven on Earth as a surreal concept of time and progress in society. I use these images to trick the spectator’s preconceived ideas, overwrite embedded race associations, and tackle prejudice on a subconscious level. I would like it to serve as a Trojan horse for the mind.
On runways and in campaigns, I realise my themes in my own image: young men of colour, who, in the future, might be able to mirror themselves in the historical reflection of luxury as much as any white boy down the street. With every show, I publish a map pinning down the birthplace of each individual represented on my runway, as well as those of their parents. Models aren’t hangers, but real people with real stories. I am not into “casting” but into making spaces for those stories to be told. Through my ongoing premise of boyhood, I seek to positively influence the minds of young men of colour with images of opportunity before society programmes them to think any differently.
I believe in nuance because I believe in the intelligence and perceptiveness of my audiences. As I proceed, and continue to infuse my vision with Black aesthetics and inclusivity, I will never underestimate them. Through my own reality, I am interested in the reversal of the expected roles of races within society, and the discourse it creates. I am interested in contributing to the progression of fashion’s relationship with labels and stereotypes: “designer” versus “image-maker”, “luxury” versus “streetwear”, or the nuanced idea of streetwear versus “streetwear” itself. In my game of inverted commas, streetwear is a community founded in subculture, while “streetwear” is a commodity founded in fashion.
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. I consider the Spring of 2020 to be a turning point in my tenure at Louis Vuitton. Now, my first four seasons collapse into one chapter to be recorded for the future upcycling of ideas and ethea. Whether practical or figurative, I don’t believe in obsolescence. In my new chapter at Louis Vuitton, I will introduce a number of concrete upcycling initiatives to support this principle: no season is an old season. I will continue to believe in the power of nuance to illustrate this as part of my core values.
As we collectively resurge, consider this my manifesto: as a presence of colour within the fashion establishment, I commit to inclusivity, unity, diversity, and individuality. I will continue to employ diverse candidates, financially support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ causes, shed light on businesses owned by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ individuals, work on public-facing initiatives that showcase BIPOC and LGBTQ+ role models, and assist organisations that promote more inclusive workforces. This is my invitation to move forward together with awareness, hope and determination. You are witnessing unapologetic Black Imagination on display.
If you made it this far, thank you for your time.
Listen to Virgil Abloh speak to GRAZIA’s Editor-in-Chief Alison Tay in a recorded conversation that now lives in his personal archive.
This essay is published in the third edition of GRAZIA Middle East. Click here to discover more from THE JOURNEY.