Virgil Abloh has worked with Nike throughout the course of his career, but he has done it in a manner that is more complex than that of a plain collaborator. He liked to experiment with things. A nudger. A questioner. His ideas often bordered on the unfiltered, such as “What if you punch holes in the sneaker?” What are our options for printing on it? What if we made the elements of the building that are normally hidden from view visible?
Mr. Abloh’s designs for Nike were, in this regard, the most literal exposition of his “3 percent” approach to innovation. They featured subtle shifts in perspective that ended up being seismic, and they were also a vivid representation of his belief that forward-thinking design could be reinterpreted on a mass scale.
But Mr. Abloh, who served as the creative director of men’s fashion at Louis Vuitton until his death in November of this year, had even loftier ambitions. He was a restless creative who used businesses like paintbrushes, and he endeavoured to bring together all of the universes he had created. It is in the soon-to-be-released Air Force 1 that he arranged, which was a partnership between Nike and Louis Vuitton, that this idea is presented in its most vivid and audacious form.
The incorporation of the AF1 silhouette into the Louis Vuitton aesthetic is a natural progression in Mr. Abloh’s decades-long mission to eradicate the barriers that exist between high fashion and streetwear. It is also a straightforward recognition of the fact that the AF1 silhouette is already an essential component of authentic high-style grammar. It has been subject to amplification, embellishment, and fancification for a number of years at this point.
This collaboration makes good on the promise made by Dapper Dan, the legendary Harlem bootlegger and customizer of the 1980s. Dapper Dan realised decades ago that high fashion brands weren’t serving Black customers, and as a result, he remade their garments in a range of custom styles, earning him loyal customers but also giving him legal headaches.
There are nods throughout the collection to iconic hues of the Air Force 1, and maybe even to A Bathing Ape, who more or less copied the AF1 style for its Bape Sta model. The collection has 47 different designs. This partnership features the first AF1 to have the Ghanaian flag, honouring the designer, Mr. Abloh’s background.
A video loop depicting the production of one of these shoes is shown on a screen the size of a wall beside the entrance. The loop begins with the swoosh being sewn on and continues through the dremel being used to smooth up the leather on the sneaker so that the midsole can be connected. Small holographic displays of the 47 designs may be found strewn throughout the room, with each design replicated in real life next to its holographic counterpart. The ground is covered in a massive LED display that depicts a cloudy sky.
The only spot in the exhibit where you can see Mr. Abloh is in a brief movie that was taken the previous year in his studio in Paris when he was working on the design. However, it is difficult to deny that this publication is a living continuation of the work that he has done throughout his life. This is a museum work that was designed for the streets, yet it is a hip-hop classic that was hand-crafted in Italy and is full of references to those who know about these things.
In recent years, it has been common practise for high-fashion labels and shoe firms to work together on joint projects. Consider the continually daring relationships that Kiko Kostadinov and Vivienne Westwood have had with Asics, or Comme des Garçons’ perspective-tilting work with Nike. These are two examples of collaborations that stand out for their uniqueness. However, the majority of the time they are devoid of purpose and attitude: Consider the too polished Air Jordan 1 designed by Dior, or the shrug-worthy collaboration between Prada and Adidas.
The Louis Vuitton AF1 that Mr. Abloh designed, on the other hand, is loaded with symbolism and attitude. He is heard saying the following in the video in which he is featured: “I believe it should not be about the coloration. It has to be centred on the concept.”
This will result in more regulations being violated, more companies being pushed past the boundaries of their comfort zones, and more possibilities for tinkerers to be given the ability to deconstruct and rebuild. Across the street from the piece is a water tower that has been painted with a straightforward and fundamental Ablohism: “DREAM NOW.” The fruits will endure despite your presence.