In Depth

Tastemakers Virgil Abloh and Nigo explain their Louis Vuitton collaboration

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In June this year, a fantastical creature crossed the Japanese skies. Starting off by Mount Fuji, it made its way to Tokyo, past the city's bustling Shibuya Scramble Crossing to reach Louis Vuitton's Miyashita Park boutique. Its journey imagined as a short film, the yellow-beaked anime duck is the avian mascot of LV². A partnership between Virgil Abloh and multihyphenate creative Nigo, LV² encompasses ready to wear, shoes, leather goods and assorted accessories, including Keepall travel bags, wallets and earphone cases. "It’s Louis Vuitton, squared," says Abloh. "It represents a coming together of two people, who appreciated this house long before we worked in it."

Abloh joined Louis Vuitton in March 2018 as artistic director of the Parisian heritage brand's menswear division. For Louis Vuitton, inspired collaborations have become something of a calling card: in recent years, the maison's menswear has been accented by artists Jack and Dinos Chapman, archival Christopher Nemeth prints and the red and white colour palette of streetwear sensation Supreme. LV² marks Abloh's first foray into creative team-ups since taking the marque's helm. "Collaborations start with conversations," says Abloh. "What we were interested in investigating was less about us and more about what inspires us."

LV² was kismet for Abloh and Nigo, as the duo first met over 15 years ago. "Nigo is a cult figure of an esoteric sector of fashion popularly defined as streetwear, which was made up of sports elements, luxury and art," Abloh enthuses. "He was doing this ten years before everyone else, before the coalescence of luxury and street was ever a concept. Staging this collaborative survey under the hallowed name of Louis Vuitton brings the evolution of that concept full circle."

In between their first rencontre and LV², Abloh was drafted in as a creative director by Kanye West, set up best-selling fashion brand Off-White and worked with names including Nike before Louis Vuitton announced his appointment. "I've known Virgil for a long time," Nigo explains. "It feels like a good time for us to come together."

It was legendary musician and Harajuku streetwear entrepreneur Hiroshi Fujiwara who gave Tomoaki Nagao his nickname. The two met when Nigo was enrolled at Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College – alma mater of designers Yohji Yamamoto, Kenzō Takada and Junya Watanabe – and their visual similarities inspired a nickname that roughly translates as 'number two'. It was also while still a student that Nigo first crossed paths with Jun Takashi; upon graduating, the two set up Harajuku boutique Nowhere with the help of Nagao in 1993.

Nigo's ascent is marked by collaborations: at Nowhere, shoppers soon discovered streetwear start-up A Bathing Ape (BAPE), a project with SK8THING named after 1968 film Planet of the Apes. With designs such as the 2002 unveiled Bapesta trainers and team-ups with Kanye West, Kid Cudi and others, the brand garnered an international following; in 2014, Nigo left the business following BAPE's sale. In the meantime, he had launched two more brands: Billionaire Boys Club (with Pharrell Williams) plus trainer make Ice Cream and Human Made, which pays tribute to Nigo's admiration of vintage clothing and accessories with easy to wear designs issued in limited edition runs. It was for Human Made that Nigo first dreamt up an anime duck.

LV² was realised across Paris – where the duo met at Abloh's Louis Vuitton menswear studio – and Nigo's Tokyo set-up. "Virgil simply asked me to come up with some ideas initially," says Nigo. "Since Louis Vuitton has always meant a lot to me, I knew immediately what I wanted to do." He has been a long-term collector of fashion, design and colourful paraphernalia; at Nigo's headquarters, there are walls of numbered black boxes containing meticulously archived vintage clothing, elsewhere, the eye rests on prototypes of modern furniture and a replica of The Beatle's drum kit. For Nigo, denim is a passion – he is in possession of some of the first Levi's denim jackets produced, plus a unique denim tuxedo the American make tailored for singer Bing Crosby – as is Louis Vuitton, and his archive is home to bespoke creations such as a record bag replete with hoop-shaped handle to carry headphones. "I have a long relationship with Louis Vuitton", says Nigo. "I have been a customer and collector for years."

In design and references, the duo's collection is striking for its many biographical notes. Nigo's encyclopaedic knowledge of denim has inspired a bold monogrammed and patch-worked fabric shaping blouson jackets, wide-cut trousers, slip-on mules and bucket hats. A selection of tailored ensembles pays homage to Nigo's early travels to London and his personal Savile Row orders later on. "The reason Nigo arrived at his premise is because he was a curious Japanese kid in the nineties, and a passionate collector," Abloh explains. " The only way to satisfy your curiosity back then was to travel. He was going to London, listening to punk, buying records, seeing how Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood had been dressing. He’d come back with the fashion from London and wear it in Tokyo when he was DJing, creating this cross-pollination of fashion and culture. We wanted to tell that story."

In addition to casual get-ups that in styling recall the Brit Pop era – denim separates paired thick-soled suede ankle-boots – London and the capital city's fashion history shaped the collection's tailoring. Accessorised with black glazed calf leather Derbies (their exposed metal toe caps spelling 'Louis Vuitton') and worn with shirts with high pointed collars, suiting is cut to a slim and cropped fit. "It was important for me to create a complete look for this collection, not just an assortment of cool items. I knew that I wanted to make a suit as part of this collection." Nigo explains. "I feel there's something within Louis Vuitton that works with the Mod aesthetic. It's a brand with history but it's always had a progressive, modernist outlook."

Abloh too finds common ground between the Parisian brand's USP and the look first seen in '60s Swinging London. "We were interested in the dandy: how London Mods could meet Tokyo in a reinterpretation under the guise of Louis Vuitton," he says.  "It strikes a chord with the essence of the House, which is travel and cross-pollination."

In his own work Abloh, who is a wizard at branding and has previously namechecked Marcel Duchamp and the French-American artist's Readymades among his inspirations, regularly captures the Zeitgeist. LV² features new takes on the maison's emblematic codes. Louis Vuitton's Damier pattern – a bold checkerboard motif first used in 1888 – has been blown up, its now super-sized squares emblazoned across backpacks and Soft Trunk bags. The Giant Damier also inspired clothing, with knitwear and tailoring following the geometric print.

Elsewhere, a new logo spells 'Louis Vuitton' in the curlicue letters of a retro font and the brand's best-known Monogram appears as patches of canvas material, shaped to resemble ice cream melting across accessories. It's a joyful concept and one can imagine the fun Nigo and Abloh had experimenting freely. "Louis Vuitton spoke to us before we were ever in a position to make a brand," Abloh says today. "In that sense, the iconography of Louis Vuitton is apparent in both our independent bodies of work. LV² signifies a squaring that creates a new dimension."

Portrait by Nick Haynes

Shoot photographer Norbert Schoerner

Models - Takuma Amakasu @ Donna Models / Maximillian B @ Tomorrow Is Another Day / Gustav Lindh @ Firman

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