On Thursday, January 21, we set our alarm clocks a little earlier to tune into Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton Fall-Winter 2021-2022 show. Named “Peculiar Contrast, Perfect Light,” the presentation premiered on YouTube from the Tennis Club de Paris at 8:30 am EST. In short, the fashion show explores “the unconscious biases instilled in our collective psyche by the archaic norms of society.” Abloh proposes that fashion is the best tool we can use to change those preconceptions.
“My whole being has been poured out into this film here,” Abloh wrote on Instagram in celebration of its unveiling. “It’s not just fashion or films we make; it’s space for new stories and artworks to be placed.” While watching the 14-minute film, I couldn’t help but feel my brain kick into gear, searching for symbolism and themes with the intensity of an overly competitive college English major.
For the record, Abloh’s fashion show could have an entire thesis devoted to exploring unconscious bias, but for now, a list of five key takeaways will have to do. Ahead, GRAZIA explains a few themes the designer explored in the creation of the Louis Vuitton men’s Fall-Winter 2021-2022 collection.
1. the fashion show was INSPIRED BY THE ESSAY, “STRANGER IN THE VILLAGE” BY JAMES BALDWIN
Baldwin’s essay is from his essay collection, “Notes of a Native Son,” published in 1955, but it was originally published in Harper’s Magazine in 1953. The piece explores the author’s experience as the first Black man to live in Leukerbad’s village in Switzerland, where he feels alienated and an object of wonder. Baldwin draws parallels from this experience to the way Black Americans are treated in Western culture. The most obvious reference to the poem is the very beginning: the scene in which Saul Williams wears Louis Vuitton’s FW21 collection while trekking through snowy mountains in Switzerland.
2. the fashion show challenges archetypes
During the show, Abloh depicts various archetypes such as the artist, the salesman, the architect, the drifter, and more – the roles that are considered “normal” characters in our society. The designer strives to illuminate the presumptions we make about people based on the clothes they wear. The goal is for us to see fashion for the beauty of what it is rather than the values it might represent, like cultural background, gender, or sexuality.
3. the collection explores abloh’s theme of “Tourist vs. Purist”
“Tourist vs. Purist” is a collection motif that will be emblazoned on bags and accessories. This isn’t the first time Abloh’s introduced this dichotomy. His 2019 “Figures of Speech” exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago also explored the concept. It’s the ability for the tourist (someone aspiring towards a specific field of knowledge) to have a joint appreciation for something as the purist (the insider who already has that knowledge).
4. the collection CHALLENGES WARDROBE PRECONCEPTIONS
Similar to the idea of challenging archetypes, Abloh tests the way we think about specific wardrobe elements, challenging us to view them through a new lens. For example: in the men’s fall-winter 2021 show, he reimagines Ghanaian textile Kente cloth as Scottish tartan, as seen in Look 61 (pictured in the gallery below).
5. the collection begs the question: what is artistic ownership?
Few fashion industry followers will forget the controversy that unfolded in 2019 when Van Beirendonck accused the artistic director of copying his work in his Louis Vuitton Spring-Summer 2020 collection. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Abloh explores the question: What is artistic ownership? He does this by presenting objects and references in the collection that are devoid of ownership, like paper cups and paper planes, used for the show’s physical invitation.
Ahead, click through for a look at some of GRAZIA’s favorite runway looks from the show.