In late 2019, Virgil Abloh declared that streetwear was dead. He was talking about culture, not clothing, but the statement was immediately stripped of context and sent pinging across the Internet.
Abloh didn’t mean that kids would stop wearing graphic T-shirts and jeans. He meant the medium would need to die in order to be born again. Out with the follow-the-leader hype machine, in with freedom of expression. In the age of mechanical reproduction, you will need to be the work of art.
In that sense, LV² is the perfect vehicle for Abloh’s vision. The Louis Vuitton line he oversees with Japanese polymath NIGO launched just a few months after Abloh’s streetwear obituary. LV² is so forward-looking it looks backward for inspiration. When the first LV² offering was released in summer 2020, the reaction was mild bemusement, followed by frothing demand. NIGO and Abloh followers expecting approachable hoodies and caps were met with old-school ’50s-era tailoring, a tall order for folks seeking casualwear as they knew it. But anyone initially put off was put right back on by LV²’s wearable shapes. Much like NIGO’s Human Made imprint, approachability grounds LV² — patchworked denim, thick-lined cartoon animal branding — while its vivid appliqué and extreme craft elevate it into the realm of luxury.
No hoodies, no printed basics, no sweatpants: LV² promised a new breed of streetwear fitted with blazers and creased slacks. Here the Louis Vuitton monogram isn’t merely a luxury flex, but a symbol of sophistication. The imagined LV² wearer appreciates menswear heritage and gets the cues embedded into each garment. NIGO’s career is almost entirely infomed by those embedded cues.
Money can’t buy you everything, but it can get you a T-shirt from BAPE, NIGO’s first major brand, or a hoodie from Human Made, his current project. These garments confer an in-the-know status to their wearer, distinguishing them in certain circles as tastemaking insiders. This is really what NIGO sells and what so many wannabe designers try to absorb. Sure, they can make rainbow camouflage or repurpose militaria like NIGO, but “streetwear” isn’t necessarily about specific patterns or pieces.
It’s a feeling, and it’s right-time, right-place clout that you buy into with NIGO’s clothing. That’s why the different eras of NIGO look so different — he sells moments in time, not timeless basics. NIGO’s approach works at Human Made and LV² and it’ll likely work at KENZO, where he was appointed artistic director in September 2021.
Long before he became Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Virgil Abloh was redefining “streetwear” at outlets like Been Trill, Pyrex Vision, and Off-White™, where he still challenges his followers to keep up. It’s important to remember that Abloh has never really embraced the term “designer” (he once said it was more of a descriptor for traditionalists).
Like NIGO, Abloh is a conduit for the culture around him. He formulates concepts, makes connections, honors his forebears, and celebrates society’s most crucial figures. That Abloh does this through the medium of clothing is almost incidental, which isn’t to say Abloh doesn’t know anything about clothing, but that he knows what works and what doesn’t.
To get a glimpse of the distinction between NIGO’s old-school approach and Abloh’s contemporary bent, consider how they reach their audiences. While NIGO’s fame grew primarily by word of mouth, spread by influential admirers back in the day, Abloh succeeds on the acclaim of his peers and a leveraged social media presence. Check his Instagram on any given day and try to count the number of reposts, shares, and screenshots in his Instagram Stories. NIGO and Abloh are always on, but only Abloh is always online.
LV² really isn’t just about clothing. It’s rooted in legacy and community but most of all it’s a masterclass in creative collaboration that might otherwise be called Storytelling 101.NIGO and Abloh’s working relationship represents the amalgamation of old and new, streetwear then and streetwear now. But this still doesn’t quite capture the way that NIGO and Abloh took something ordinary, like two brands teaming up, and transformed it into a must-know, must-have moment.
A collaboration is a kind of magic trick, where the performers get your attention, hold it, and then they presto, flash, surprise. The audience claps then leaves the venue. They forget what they just saw.
It’s easy to mash two creative titans together and expect headlines. That’s all spectacle. NIGO and Abloh treat collaboration more like performance art. Not that each drop has to mean something profound but that each partnership means something. There’s a reason that Abloh approaches his Louis Vuitton collections like a museum curator prepares their exhibits. Alongside the runway imagery and product shots, Abloh will distribute 80-page press releases that include chapters breaking down, among other things, his artistic vocabulary and heritage. Despite differences in approach, NIGO and Abloh’s output is remarkably consistent. Even when collaborations get particularly wild — saké, for example, or nurses’ scrubs — they all feel headline-worthy, and the secret sauce in the recipe is intention.
LV² recuts the clothes that men wear to work and play in post-war America, the new garments now pinstriped with tiny LV monograms, patched with leather tiger heads, or cut from layered denim panels. It all lives in an odd but fascinating menswear intersection: LV² is, of course, produced to Louis Vuitton’s usual standards, but its sack jackets and creased chinos are meant to be daily drivers, humble wardrobe staples. NIGO and Abloh aren’t pretending that LV² isn’t luxury clothing — it obviously is — they’re demonstrating that luxury clothing is streetwear. These are just the clothes to be worn every day, a luxury line meant to be lived in.
NIGO’s dance card is especially full now. A few months after LV²’s second selection hits stores, NIGO will premiere his first KENZO collection. It’s not clear whether LV² will end with NIGO’s move to KENZO — and if there’ll be a K² line at KENZO — but if it does, that’s fine. LV² is like a history lesson in menswear. It draws in garments from years gone by, reworks them to contemporary taste, and in doing so creates the future. Even if these two LV² collections are the only courses jointly taught by Professors NIGO and Abloh, they form a complete education in collaborative mastery. We spoke to the two of them to find out more.
When did you guys first meet and what brought you together?
Virgil Abloh: We originally met in Japan through mutual friends. NIGO was, and still is, sort of the most important voice in a modernized take of luxury fashion. For me, NIGO has influenced a new way to look at luxury. I think a lot of times historical brands are passing down heritage, and NIGO reversed the flow: He looked at lifestyle and culture and saw how heritage could fit within his new view.
NIGO: I think Virgil also looks at luxury from the perspective of traditional culture and interpreting it to create new designs.
What was the process of working through the pandemic like?
NIGO: Virgil and I understand each other, so the process was not really a problem.
Virgil, how does LV² and NIGO’s perspective fit into your Louis Vuitton narrative?
Abloh: What always struck me about NIGO is how he started a new way to look at luxury. It was an important turn for me and how I have approached my practice as a designer ever since.
Could you break down some of the design cues that appear in LV²’s latest collection?
Abloh: This season, NIGO and I continue the creative conversation that started last season. United by a shared subcultural practice and inclination for trompe l’œil and pop motifs, we investigate again our diverse cultural roots under the global emblem of Louis Vuitton. The collection expands on this exchange in a celebration of NIGO’s Japanese provenance, the inherent tapestry of his fashion upbringing, and close looks at the Western men’s wardrobe instilled in him from boyhood.
NIGO: [We took inspiration from] vintage items from the ’50s and earlier, and items that I actually wore as a child in the ’80s.
Abloh: Informed by NIGO’s personal collections of British subcultural dress, the collection cross-pollinates a Western 1950s and ’60s’ tailoring silhouette with a Japanese sensibility that I am always keen to study and transform. My personal favorite pieces are the denim pieces adorned with NIGO’s “ice cream” signature.
NIGO: I learned a lot by actually ordering many suits from tailors in Savile Row for 15 years. The British style is the basis of my tailoring.
Having had so much experience in casual sneaker design, NIGO, how does it feel to create footwear for LV²?
NIGO: Sneakers have been designed so much that only the function has evolved, and it is difficult to come up with new designs. In this way, luxury footwear may be the same, but denim with sneakers and denim with leather shoes are two different things. Therefore, it is fascinating to design both.
Is LV² “streetwear”?
NIGO: I have been wearing streetwear since the beginning, and I am still wearing streetwear, and I will continue to wear streetwear.
Abloh: I formally believe the term “streetwear” is limiting to guys like NIGO and myself. I think that what’s great and special about this second season is that it is so much rooted in NIGO’s personal influences and his inclination for tailoring. I wanted this collection to sort of reflect his personal taste as a consumer of formal wear and dandy aesthetics.What we decided to do was to bridge the gap between what he’s personally wearing and anchor it into today (streetwear). We’re bridging that gap to contemporary fashion from that mod-slash-dandy era to today.
NIGO: Now that streetwear has become the standard, I don’t think there are any boundaries.
Abloh: Obviously, Louis Vuitton is a house that has specific heritage, craftsmanship, and tradition, so very much in the dandy sort of canon, but in order to make it young, youthful, and expressive we incorporated a modernized take.
NIGO: [Even] in the current world, where casual clothing is ubiquitous, tailoring is still an essential part of fashion.
NIGO, you’ve had a career with several distinct eras. Do you intentionally avoid referencing design cues from your past?
NIGO: I don’t think that I consciously avoid [recognizable cues]; it’s just that they don’t fit the feeling I have right now. I make things based on the feeling I have at the time. Fashion is a cycle, so I think there will come a time when I make something like that again.
Between yourselves, Kim Jones, and Matthew Williams, LVMH is creating a vanguard of creative directors with a streetwear background. Has being part of that collective shaped your outlook on the future?
Abloh: The way I see it is that we’re all opening doors in our own way — driving change from within. The fashion and luxury industries are becoming more inclusive with every new hire that is seen as “different,” and I’m proud to be included with these other designers.
NIGO: I believe that what I learned from my experience at LV² will be very useful at KENZO.
Virgil, you have been especially vocal about your aim to inspire future generations of creatives. What should the kids take away from LV²?
Abloh: Work hard, have ambition, and be positive. That’s how I live my life and how I work in my practice. Everyone has their own unique style and skills and I want to make sure future generations can reach their full potential no matter what their background is.