Virgil and Louis – By @JoeySare
By Joe Sare
Virgil and Louis
For anyone who missed it, last week, Virgil Abloh, Founder of Off-White and Ex-CD for Kanye West, was appointed Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, replacing Kim Jones, who left late January. Although this is a great step forward for diversity in the fashion industry, and many have praised LVs future-facing attitude to embrace streetwear into their brand and credit it, I can’t help but feel this is somewhat the death of streetwear as part of counter-culture.
Streetwear, at its roots, came out of the surf scene in California, with brands like Stussy, and the Punk rock scene, with brands like Fuct. It’s an attitude of appropriation, I take, I cut up, I rearrange, it’s new. Think of it in terms of Hip-hop sampling: there’s a core song being sampled that you still remember and recognise, but it’s a different sound, there’s a different flavour, and it’s a different market. To be extremely general, this is what most streetwear brands do. And it’s not always about what they’ve sampled, it’s about an attitude of ‘I want, I take’.
So what’s wrong with LV deciding they’re going to take and ‘sample’ streetwear for their latest collections? Sure, we can say after all these years a message which resonates so profoundly within a generation has finally been embraced by the largest luxury brand in the world, and it’s a victory for streetwear. But for others, it feels crass. To illustrate through another extended metaphor, think of the use of sampling as comedy. When one streetwear brand samples a high-end streetwear brand, it’s an underdog scenario: a jester who mocks a King. But when the roles are reversed, it can come off as a politician teasing the poor. It’s no longer funny.
It also feels a little bizarre since most luxury brands have been so resistant to accept the sampling of their brands (LV, who collaborated with Supreme in 2017, actually put out a cease and desist order in the early 2000’s with a collection of decks, tees and hats imitating the infamous LV pattern) and have a terrible record for sampling other designers work and not giving the credit. Even the latest collections are reminiscent to the work of Dapper Dan, a clothing merchant who cut up Louis, Gucci and Fendi to make custom clothing for Hip-Hop royalty in the 80’s and 90’s. Although it got these brands on the front pages of magazines and music videos, they put Dapper Dan out of business through litigation. Dapper Dan, by the way, was brought in to work in-house at Gucci in 2017.
It seems high-end luxury brands embracing streetwear has come at a time where streetwear became much more prominent amongst an older generation. I remember when my mum’s friends would look bizarrely at the clothes I was buying when I was 14 or 15, but are now half the people making up the queues for Supreme on a Saturday lunchtime. It’s reached saturation point.
I don’t know why I’m complaining really, this is just the fashion industry. it’s just what’s vogue right now. Ugly, fakes, and samples, and, more generally streetwear, is in. This is Louis Vuitton staying relevant to its market, who have an appetite for this style. And designers of streetwear will be taken somewhat seriously. But a little part of me still wants it to remain a joke. If a luxury fashion brand is now the paradigm of counter-culture, what’s next?