Louis Vuitton Men’s Fall-Winter 2021

‘Ebonics / Snake Oil / The Black Box / Mirror, Mirror

Click here to watch the Louis Vuitton Men’s Fall-Winter 2021 Show

“This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again” writes James Baldwin in his 1955 essay “Stranger in the Village”, which shows the symmetry between European and American racism while setting a perspective on Black Americans’ incredibly unique position in society. Written 66 years ago, in which 92 years before that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, most of Baldwin’s lived experiences and written ideas can be summarized as follows: Black people living in America “is a form of insanity which overtakes white men”. 

Taken from the Louis Vuitton Official Website

As referenced in Virgil Abloh’s shownotes for his Fall-Winter 2021 collection, this essay marks an empirical observation about racism from Baldwin’s generation to now. What can catalyze Black people’s existence in this world? Why do we have subconscious biases? The show interprets these questions into a prelude and three acts–further delving questions themselves, answered through a series of performance art and stylistic techniques that embark on a journey of Black self-reflection and realization. 

Click here to take a look at Virgil Abloh’s shownotes from the FW 2021 collection.

Abloh tackles our perceptions of each other through pre-imposed archetypes: that we are always looking to identify and categorize ourselves, and that wardrobe is what helps us determine that–it’s our uniform. What you wear is what people see first (as is, one’s skin color and gender per Baldwin), and deconstructing that helps to rid the world of assumptions we have of one another to blur the line of what we see as normalcy. What is a ‘new normal’ and why is it important? Can we answer these questions that Abloh poses, or are these just idealized versions of the world that can’t be imposed without completely dismantling the ways of living we have today?

The show features American musician, poet & actor Saul Williams and Yasiin Bey (better known as Mos Def), both of whom’s performances help to conglomerate the complex emotions and experiences of the Black individuals’ position in the world. 

Taken from the Louis Vuitton Official Website

“Who wants to look normal?”

As is with anything, our instinctual need to categorize and deduct our own individual existences is not an exercise of individuality, it’s othering. It is soft to assume that because we judge one another, it’s only “natural”. It was human deduction that resulted in the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright. The history behind this tradition of deduction in the American context needs to be discussed–American deduction as an excuse for normality is far more dangerous than when applied anywhere else in the world. In reference to Baldwin, his experience in Switzerland was, in the eye of the Swiss man, deduced to exoticism. In America his experience is deduced to one of many things that all stem from the propagated white fear that Black people are demonically inhuman. 

Our perception of ‘normal’ is a white perception of normal. When was the last time you read an essay written in Ebonics? The very words you are reading have been chosen, revised, and implemented into modern American education that dictates the way we speak and write to denote credibility–the White Western Habitus. Abloh covers this on a macro level, arguing that fashion can redefine conformity, as being a “choice open to all”, then liberating ourselves to have the ability to rebel. The clothing from the collection itself ties into concepts of illusion, and “replicating the familiar through the deceptive lenses of trompe l’oeil [trick of the eye] and filtrage [filtration]”. 

Taken from the Louis Vuitton Official Website

When applied to the newly codified term “the new normal” which, as Abloh defines, grew out of the global events of 2020 to describe an unknown concept of what the future looks like, we can conclude that people of color no longer want white people to dictate this future. You can see this in the stylistic choices made by Abloh–the Paris skyline puffer jacket, kente cloth wrap, and double-faced wool peignoir tackle these ideas as well as the concept of ownership. Bags with everyday items such as pens and rulers and Louis Vuitton cups, all of which aren’t “owned” by anyone as having invented it, are used as a nod to the common critique of “stolen” intellectual property. All of these tackling ideas of normalcy as transitioning into rebellion.

Taken from the Louis Vuitton Official Website

“I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even, in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know, who yet do not even know of my existence.”

– James Baldwin, “Stranger in the Village”, 1955.

In your everyday suburban town, there is a person who believes that oversized jeans and gold chains make you look like a “gangster”–do we forget that fashion has always dictated intra-social segregation? An analysis of racism through the lens of fashion is not unique nor will it ever leave a topic of conversation so long as white supremacy dictates it. It’s for this same reason that throughout history there have been and still exist certain dress codes for certain occasions. In today’s society, clothes are just an enhanced medium for judgement beyond skin-color. Unfortunately so, skin color dictates our perceptions of one another just as much as rain grows the food we eat. As Abloh states, “Provenance is reality, while ownership is myth”.

Patrick Kelly (1954-1990)

A reminder that we must always honor Black triumphs throughout history, not just solely in the month of February.

Imagine for a second, you wake up and it’s Paris in 1981. After making your duvet, un petit déjeuner, and enjoying un café that your partner made for you, you make your way out down la Rue Madame and head to Victoire, the high-end boutique that has your new collection on sale. You’re Patrick Kelly, and this collection led you to become one of the most prominent figures in 80’s fashion. 

Born in 1954 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Kelly rapidly ascended to become a pioneer of ready-to-wear fashion. He is known for his trademark miss-matched buttons, minstrel logo and Black pop culture references used throughout his collections. He hustled to become the first American and Black member of the French organization la Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-á-porter, the governing body of the French fashion industry.

Kelly attended Jackson State University for two years, subsequently moving to Atlanta and making ends meet through volunteer work designing window displays for an Yves Saint Laurent boutique. One year after transferring into the Parsons School of Design in New York City, he moved to Paris to pursue his dream of becoming a designer.

His early days in Paris were spent making coats for a small, but ever-expanding portfolio of clients. It wasn’t long until he was introduced to Francoise Chassagnac, a prominent buyer for local boutique Victoire, and mentor to Kelly throughout his career. Chassagnac was so impressed by Kelly’s bright colors and meticulous detailing that she loaned him a workspace and funded the creation of his first collection, “Patrick Kelly in Paris”. The collection was so successful that it landed him a feature in French magazine Elle. It wasn’t long until Patrick Kelly-labelled dresses were selling for $10,000 on 5th Avenue and abroad. His brand grew to international acclaim, hosting distributors from France to Japan. He was adamant about keeping his clothing affordable to all working people, with prices ranging from $35 to the tens-of-thousands. Kelly’s signature logo, a minstrel, was so under-fire that many U.S. stores refused to sell his clothing with the logo. His message was to reclaim previous racist imagery in order to progress.

Unfortunately, Patrick Kelly passed away in 1990 due to complications from living with AIDS. His legacy is still maintained today, as Black designers such as Virgil Abloh and Telfar Clemens sustain the importance of Black culture in their respective work.

Images taken from Google.