On Thursday, Virgil Abloh unveiled his FW21 menswear collection for Louis Vuitton, “Ebonics”, alongside a presentation video titled “Peculiar Contrast, Perfect Light”. While most of the video takes place inside an airport terminal that looks like Batman’s garage if it were designed by Mies Van Der Rohe, it opens with a shot of artist Saul Williams on a snowy mountainside. It’s a nod to one of the collection’s main references: the James Baldwin essay Stranger in the Village. Published in 1953, the essays records Baldwin’s experience of being a Black man in an overwhelmingly white Swiss village.
Abloh’s collection, his sixth for Louis Vuitton, engages with themes of otherness and belonging by investigating the cultural presumptions embedded in how we dress. Built on a series of archetypes that include the artist, the salesman, and the drifter, the collection prods at the biases attached to clothes by reimagining their fit, materials, and context. A Kente cloth – inspired by Abloh’s own Ghanaian heritage – is presented in a Scottish tartan. Du-rags sit under cowboy hats. A stately overcoat, so long that it pools on the floor, is made of denim. By blurring historical dress codes, the collection seeks to dull prejudices and erase notions of who can or can’t have a seat at the table.
Abloh’s ultimate goal is to inspire. As the show’s notes read: “After the events of 2020, the collection proposes the notion that society has the opportunity to create a ‘new normal’ in which we free ourselves from the prejudice we create around people, ideas and art.” It’s Abloh’s most ambitious effort yet, and a worthy reminder of fashion’s ability to challenge the status quo.