Set for release by Assouline on Sept. 15, “Louis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh” takes stock of the late designer and visionary’s work for the French maison, cataloging highlights from his eight collections for the house and endeavoring to tap into what inspired the mind that inspired so many.
Though it’s the first book on Abloh since the designer — who had been men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton as well as helming his own luxury label, Off-White — passed away in November 2021, he himself probably best described this glossy-page compilation of his work: “You are witnessing unapologetic Black Imagination on display,” he wrote in a manifesto in July 2020 (spurred by the racial turmoil in the wake of George Floyd’s murder), which is showcased in the early pages of the book, though it speaks more broadly to the creative’s work.
With two silk clamshell collectible covers — one featuring the cartoon artwork by artist Reggieknow, who created the cult characters of Abloh’s spring 2021 show video called “The Adventures of Zoooom With Friends,” and another taken from Louis Vuitton’s spring 2022 show in Miami that features a sky-borne red hot air balloon with the house logo, a nod to Abloh’s embrace of youth — the book is an invitation to imagine before it’s even open.
Channeling the colorful world of Abloh throughout, writer Anders Christian Madsen’s introduction opens on a sunshine yellow spread. His aim, as someone who collaborated with Abloh often, including on his July 2020 manifesto and show notes for his Louis Vuitton collections, appears to be getting the world to understand Abloh the way some in his inner world did. Not as the first Black designer appointed to that role at Louis Vuitton, nor as someone who “intercepted” the heights of fashion with no fashion design background plus a penchant for streetwear, but rather as someone who fiercely honored his childlike imagination, whose “mind was mind-blowing” and who had more than every right to be positioned in one of fashion’s most prominent design positions.
“The Boyhood Ideaology that framed his practice represented the unspoiled outlook of a child yet to be affected by the preconceived ideas of society. Employing fashion as his tool, Virgil wanted to reset the preordained perceptions we tie to human genetics, body language and the way we choose to dress. He wanted to start from scratch, where clothes were just clothes and humans simply humans,” Madsen writes in the introductory pages, which are interspersed with full-page images and spreads of Abloh in situ.
“Rather than intercepting the fashion establishment, Virgil was the breath of fresh air that saved it for a new and less elitist age,” he continues.
The high-end hardcover is divided into eight chapters, one for each of Abloh’s menswear collections for Louis Vuitton, which he considered chapters in a continuum rather than seasonal one-offs to be forgotten by the next set of shows.
Chapter 1 begins with Abloh’s spring 2019 collection, titled “We Are the World,” his first for the fashion house. It catalogues images of the packed crowd sitting astride a rainbow runway in the Palais-Royal gardens in Paris; shots of the season’s accompanying campaign; full-page catwalk images, pop-ups that previewed the collection; backstage shots of the designer adjusting his dressed models, and detailed images of the pieces, like a jacket embroidered with Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” sleeping in a field of poppies.
Addressing the “unexpected” imagery from the 1939 musical fantasy film, Madsen writes: “With his sharp sense of irony, Abloh used the film as an analogy for his own transition: the farm girl from the Midwest transported by a tornado to the fairy-tale land of Oz. On his runway, Oz was Paris, the Yellow Brick Road was the rainbow catwalk, Dorothy was Abloh and the Wizard was symbolic of the all-important imagination that had brought him there.”
The ensuing chapters of the book and Abloh’s time with Louis Vuitton continue in much the same manner, with more than 320 images aiming to capture the essence of his creations. Always the colorful, the imaginative, the tradition bending; the endless play with volume and placement; the playful — bouncy castles, balloons, pleated floral skirts in menswear; the absolute twist on conformity; the alternative perspective ever on offer — the “almost hallucinogenic displays of wonder.”
Reflections from Abloh’s friends and collaborators dot the book. One from creative studio PlayLab Inc., which worked alongside the designer to create some of the most distinguishing elements of his runway shows (like the branded bouncy castle for the spring 2020 Louis Vuitton Men’s show), reads: “We had never met someone like you. I don’t think we even thought someone like you could exist, actually. You were absolutely nothing short of magical. Every idea, DM, high five…it was all magic. You believed in us, and by doing so, you challenged us to make things we never had.”
Notably absent are any reflections from the late designer’s wife, Shannon Abloh, who stepped up as chief executive officer and managing director of the creative corporation her husband founded, Virgil Abloh Securities. Through it, she will continue Abloh’s legacy and initiatives.
The book winds down with the unforgettable “Virgil Was Here” spring 2022 show in Miami, which came just two days after the designer’s death, and Abloh’s final fall 2022 collection “Louis Dreamhouse,” that he’d designed and developed the presentation format for prior to his passing. The bookend to the coffee-table tome is a bonus: the complete catalogue of Abloh’s sneakers for Louis Vuitton.
For those who want more than the Assouline Classics Collection edition, the publisher has also made an Ultimate Collection available, which will be packaged in a collectible box nodding to Abloh’s use of shipping crates in his collections, and will feature a separate compendium insert highlighting sneaker designs, including the Air Force 1 collection that dropped in July. The Classic edition retails for $120 and the Ultimate for $1,200. The interior content is the same for both covers in the Classics Collection as well as in the Ultimate.
“Louis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh” will be available in Assouline boutiques and on its website Sept. 15.
In Abloh’s own words, and as the book reveals page by page, “On runways and in campaigns, I realize my themes in my own image: young men of color, who, in the future, might be able to mirror themselves in the historical reflection of luxury as much as any white boy down the street.”
From Louis Vuitton’s side, CEO Michael Burke writes in the book’s foreword, “In all he did, Virgil shone the way. Well done, kid. You made it.”