“I feel like I’m writing a book with these collections. It’s one continuous logic about diversity and design,” said Virgil Abloh, talking from the Louis Vuitton menswear studio. “And it’s now synced up with my true thoughts about culture.” Abloh’s multilayered, multi-referenced filmmaking in the time of pandemic has taken him to a place of collective communication where he’s uplifting and materializing far more than clothes on a runway. “I’ve started to let my imagination run wild,” he said. “I try to create the world as I would like to see it in real life. Having something that’s pop culture and fashion, that’s an education and maybe opens minds. To me, that’s the North Star.”
Questioning designers about where their inspirations come from is a typical fashion-editor gambit, while who copied who is the accusatory game of the internet. This time Abloh essentially took that on and checkmated it with his knowledge of Black music’s revolutionary creative methods of sampling: of how hip-hop and jungle evolved into rave through subcultures, countries, and time until the genius of the provenance is all simultaneously embedded, normalized, and erased in the mainstream. That’s where the vast Black cultural global fashion influence of tracksuits and sneakers comes from—uncredited. And it’s where, at the very top of the menswear establishment, it faces off with the in-the-know formalities surrounding the sartorial canon of the suit. “When it comes to the nuance of Black culture and design, how does it show up? How does that become canonized? I stand in a very privileged position to be able to educate on that.”
Abloh named the collection and its film Amen Break—a perfect metaphoric illustration of how an original drum break recorded by the Winstons, a funk and soul group, in 1969 became the most sampled drum break ever. “I called the collection that because I think it’s so profound: this idea that something can be iterated on by so many artists in so many songs to the point where it melts away. They weren’t compensated for it, by the way. And people don’t know that the drum pattern in their favorite song was from a very specific soul song—and it’s a sampler that makes it possible.”
In that way, Abloh actively joins his weight from the point of view of Black authority to the live debate about hacking, reappropriation, and source sharing that has been batting between Gucci’s Alessandro Michele and Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia. If there’s a contest on who did it first to create new significance and new looks out of those already existing, then it all points to who was doing what in Black culture, music, and style in America in the 1970s and ’80s. All of this is documented and factually backed up in the 40-plus pages of Abloh’s show notes.
This article was written by Alexandru Trestianu, the Managing Editor here at The A-Z Bible.