High-fashion history changes course with Virgil Abloh x Nigo for Louis Vuitton
Are two heads truly better than one? If recent internet-breaking collaborations between luxury conglomerates and their front-line sartorial engineers are anything to go by, the answer is a definitive “yes”. It started in April with Gucci “hacking” its Kering comrade Balenciaga to stage a logo-maniac collection titled Aria, containing plenty of cross-referenced power suits, leggings and sequinned blazers that dug deep into the history of both maisons. Shortly after arrived Prada’s Spring/Summer ’21 spectacle (showcased during Milan Fashion Week), which was a combined projection of head-honcho Miuccia Prada’s vision and designer Raf Simons’ inventive inputs; the first of many to come, as announced by the Italian luxury titan. Meanwhile, the Dior x sacai capsule collection, slated to release in November 2021, promises to offer a Japanese twist on Dior classics such as the equestrian saddle bag.
Although fashion labels had often joined hands long before the pandemic came into being, the elemental thrill and anticipation surrounding collabs in a post-vaxxed world seems to have skyrocketed. Why, you ask? According to insights gathered by Tagwalk, a search engine platform dedicated to revealing what’s trending in fashion, it’s because of a shift in what lockdown-weary consumers are seeking out. To that end, the question about what advice they would dish out to the CEO of a luxury brand was met with a slew of responses that essentially read like this: ‘be more avant-garde and creative rather than always relying on the heritage aspect’.
While the concept of reviving archival looks under the reign of a heavy-hitting ex-creative director and re-visiting an eminent epoch in fashion history has a certain cultural cachet, 2021 calls for looking ahead in the midst of good company – a fellow collaborator keen to combine the best of two worlds through a troupe of novel ensembles. Just take a look at Louis Vuitton’s second LV2 (Louis Vuitton Squared) collection: a tornado of diversely-referenced looks that hit land under the careful supervision of men’s artistic director, Virgil Abloh, and Nigo, an illustrious Japanese fashion designer.
Regarded as legends by “hypebeasts” around the world, Abloh and Nigo are old-time friends who share a bond that extends beyond business. While the former’s impressive resume that includes a string of achievements as founder and creative director at luxury brand Off-White is no secret, his three-year (and counting) tenure as menswear artistic director at LV was surprisingly devoid of any collaborations – until now. And who better to arrive at this milestone with than irreverent artist, designer and DJ Nigo? Mastermind behind the clothing label A Bathing Ape (BAPE), Nigo pioneered hip-hop fashion in the streets of Japan and across international waters in the early 2000s. In 2013, after nearly two decades of establishing BAPE’s iconic camo print as an exclusive marker of impeccable street style, Nigo announced his departure from the brand and took up freelancing. Since then, he’s been busy building his vintage-inspired label Human Made that recently revealed a range of sneakers and apparel designed in conjunction with Adidas Originals.
With such prolific career trajectories, both Nigo and Abloh could arguably be credited for the hyper-exclusivity that this domain of style has come to represent. For Pre-Spring 2022, the “destructive” duo united to construct a distinguishable men’s wardrobe that is abundant in recognisable LV silhouettes but also nods at Nigo’s roots in Tokyo’s eminent Harajuku district. The visual campaign’s preppy-ish looks evoke a schoolboy-takes-the-streets vibe, bringing to mind that all work and no play, does in fact, make Jack a dull boy. The collaboration is built on the premise of giving formal silhouettes a youthful upgrade that mishmashes luxury’s powerful calibre with streetwear’s laid-back persona.
Before diving into the clothes that make up LV2, let’s take a moment of appreciation for its high-spirited accessories – monogrammed bucket hats, ’70s-style sunglasses that scream retro, tiger-head emblazoned belts, trunk cases and cross-body duck-shaped bags (yes, you read that right). Although we probably won’t be boarding an airplane armed with a travel-sized Louis Vuitton suitcase anytime soon, LV2’s medley of totes and revamped cruiser bags are a more than welcome replacement. Notice how Nigo entwines his Japanese design sensibility through knotting details that echo traditional furoshiki wrapping cloths while playful red heart patches, a Human Made trademark, embellish virtually every look.
The protagonist of this collaboration is undeniably the outerwear, like the boxy blazers that don’t shy away from colour-blocking and mischievous motifs. Forget about a black tie dress code for your next big event and rely on one of LV2’s striped tailored jackets or easy-going denim suits instead. Those looking to go “out out” will particularly enjoy donning LV2’s bright red-and-white chequered shirt or fleece jacket, with detachable sleeves, festooned with a flippantly revamped version of the maison’s classic Damier pattern. Belted coats and canvas jackets are plentiful, but it’s the kimono-like structuring that truly lends these designs the oomph factor; Nigo and Abloh’s acute navigation of the codes of streetwear and traditional attire doesn’t comprise the authenticity of either. In true head-to-toe fashion, we can’t miss out on drawing attention to this cross-cultural collection’s footwear that comprises sturdy tan and patent black trainers bearing either denim or graphic heart patches.
Louis Vuitton’s endeavour to integrate Nigo’s refreshing take on the brand’s existing design philosophy is not merely an example of how “teamwork makes the dream work”. Instead, it is a significant reflection of how fashion’s essence is elevated when its established “rules” are subverted to represent varying cultures and world-views. Perhaps this is why there isn’t a name better suited to this collection than LV2 – a heightened version of the original, one that acknowledges the co-existence of contrasting ideas. And if there’s a domain where this concept needs to be implemented ASAP, it’s mainstream streetwear, which is notorious for cultural appropriation and its white-washed narrative that erases the aesthetic’s hip-hop origins.
Could less hype and more hope be the future of fashion collaborations? Perhaps, but only if original creative exchanges such as this one between Virgil Abloh and Nigo for Louis Vuitton continue to be given space in the industry.