Being an outsider within your own homeland is an unfortunate experience shared by millions of people who do not comply with the societal standards of how to dress, express, live, and simply exist. Diversity of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and virtually any other characteristic plays an important part to what we aspire to be and dictates how we should behave according to archaic concepts. The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” gives our young minds an illusion of control of our own fate with little to no regard for these typically limiting factors, the answer defined by common archetypes that kids are too innocent to properly question: The Doctor, the Architect, the Businessperson. A suit, a lab coat, a fair visage, a particular vocabulary, all expectations of our chosen profession. However, when we spot our own identity and the differences it presents when contrasted to this archetype, it is difficult for us as individuals to not find ourselves feeling like an outsider in our chosen path.
This complex issue is summarized by Virgil Abloh, Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton Menswear, in a simply phrased question: “Are you a Tourist or a Purist?”. Tourists, for Abloh, are those who seem to be separated from tight-sealed industries, especially the fashion world, as Abloh considers himself to be a Tourist to some extent, with his upbringing vastly differing from that of many other famous designers. On the other hand, Purists are those born and raised inside said industry, their life and works perfectly checking each box within the archetypical requirements, an insider with all the necessary know-how.
The eternal dichotomy of Abloh’s own life is explored through the Fall-Winter 2021 Menswear collection, which takes the silhouettes of some of the answers to the age-old question (“I want to be a Doctor!” “I want to be a Salesman!”) and subverts their values and traditions, inviting us to question the validity of the stereotype. The collection was presented in an integral way, as is often the case with Abloh, the show consisting of three separate art pieces: a special short film stemming from the Seoul presentation featuring Korean artists BTS, a short film/performance art piece which took the place of the traditional fashion show, and the collection itself.
The main theme around the pieces involves taking the expected construction and silhouettes from one side of the argument or the other and doing the unexpected with them, a Purist ensemble made from Tourist materials, and a tourist outfit crafted from elevated Purist textiles. The result is a mesmerizing commentary on the societal requirements of each profession and how we view certain clothes as more deserving of respect than others.
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The collection uses vibrant greens, neutral greys, chilled blues, browns, and elegant reds. Matching dissimilar fabrics is a common theme in the collection, providing a fresh and playful feel to the whole line, while some of the House’s previous icons are revisited in the newest Louis Vuitton philosophy of upcycling fashion, done in this collection in three different ways: tailoring from leftover fabric from earlier seasons, pieces made from recycled ideas, and pieces made for other collections that find new life in this new season.
Some of the highlights of this collection include a red leather tailored single-breasted coat with a straight silhouette that pops with vibrant colour from the black suit beneath it, a full suit made in two tone heather-grey adorned in playful jewel buttons that complete the flowing illusion of this garment; and a camel and emerald green woollen windowpane coat with a long train is paired with a green faux-knit mink scarf, an oversized silhouette that emphasizes a new concept of elegance.
Some other statement pieces feature a giant puffer flower in various tones. A deep brown jacket in fur has its breast covered in a green tartan flower to go with the bright green sports shoes. A blazer made in tartan covered with the Louis Vuitton monogram and the iconic LV pattern is topped by a similar dark-green flower, while a black woollen single-breasted suit jacket with jewelled buttons is covered by an emerald green puffer flower.
Conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner participated in the collection by implementing a series of aphorisms as patterns that go with Abloh’s criticism of the social myths behind the aforementioned notions. The words “YOU CAN TELL A BOOK BY ITS COVER”, “THE SAME PLACE AT THE SAME TIME” “(SOMEWHERE SOMEHOW”)” are plastered through the collection with the trompe l’oeil and filtrage techniques elevating the mundane.
Kentes, traditional Ghanian garments, make an appearance in this season, reminding of Abloh’s cultural heritage and the overall comment of the line: would the use of a different fabric make the Kente any less Ghanian, or the fabric any less elevated? And so, a green and yellow tartan check suit is paired with a green and yellow blanket, a multi-coloured checked blanket is draped over a grey hoodie and a multi coloured blanket is wrapped around a bright green shirt.
Abloh dared to experiment too, and in the Seoul presentation, which featured Korean musicians BTS as models, he presented some unusual silhouettes, including skirts thrown over pants in bold green colour, a double-view overcoat in green and purple on one side, and orange on the other, and full suit, shirt, tie, skirt, and overcoat ensemble featuring an etched pattern.
The absolute jewels of the collection, however, can be easily spotted. First, the opening look, which sets the mood for the whole collection. A black woollen oversized tailored overcoat seems simple until one notices the jewel buttons in the shape of airplanes, a reference to a traditional boyhood toy, which will echo through almost all outfits and accessories in the line. A black woollen single-breasted tailored suit and a green and white striped shirt complete this look. The two final looks are completely astonishing in their construction and daring quality: first, a whole look of the New York skyline comes into view in this puffer jacket paired with black woollen trousers and LV Millenium sneakers, to be followed by a Paris skyline puffer jacket paired with white trousers, both hammering the idea of a literal Tourist in a Purist industry.
So, are we constrained to a predetermined path according to how we choose to look, our genetic make up and our place of birth? Are Purist industries and professions totally inaccessible to the common man? What about the extraordinary common man? Perhaps there is no foreseeable answer to these questions, as normality is ever shifting and we are left with just the never-ending wish for a new status quo. Regardless of the “true” answer, and in light of the metamorphosing nature of life, Tourists have only one choice: to persevere until purity is not a desired quality but a remembrance of archaic costumes.
Virgil Abloh managed once again to bring deep philosophical exploration into the fashion world through his analysis of boyhood and modern society through his eyes. With the inclusion of BTS and Lawrence Weiner, and the performance art piece that served as a presentation, the limits of fashion expanded significantly. While we are left to reflect on the questions posted by Abloh, the world expects a new collection by Louis Vuitton, and excitedly so.