When Virgil Abloh devoted his latest AW19 Louis Vuitton men’s collection to Michael Jackson he never could have thought that the whole thing was going to disappear so quickly. Paying homage to the ‘King of Pop’, the entire show was inspired by his Billie Jean video with its light-up paving stones and litter-strewn New York street.
Left - Those famous Jacko sequinned gloves reimagined for the, now, cancelled AW19 Louis Vuitton men's collection
The designer and brand presumed that it would be as uncontroversial as the icon from the first collection, under his creative direction, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: her glittery red shoes being replaced by his glittery gloves. In a collection brimming with references to Michael Jackson, it was a celebration of Jackson the stage performer and musician.
All good, until the release of the recent documentary, ‘Leaving Neverland’, which focussed on the allegations made by two men who say Jackson had abused them as children. The energy around this film reignited the controversy surrounding Jackson, reminding people of his potential darker side.
The Louis Vuitton damage limitation machine kicked in and released the following statement: The documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ featuring two men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson has caused us the greatest pain. It is important to mention that we were unaware of this documentary at the time of the last LV FW19 Men’s Show. “My intention for this show was to refer to Michael Jackson as a pop culture artist. It referred only to his public life that we all know and to his legacy that has influenced a whole generation of artists and designers." said Virgil Abloh, Men’s Artistic Director.
Right - Billie Jean trash can
“I am aware that in the light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions. I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.” added Abloh.
The collection, due to hit stores in July, has been stripped of any of the Jackson references and the label confirms that it will not produce any of the pieces that include Michael Jackson. Fortunately for Louis Vuitton, it was easier to cancel the collection in March, before too much had been expensively manufactured, and they were left with product they couldn’t sell. To cancel it before production was the safest option in a environment where brands are frightened to upset people or be controversial.
So, where does this leave us as an industry in relation to references?
The fashion industry is a huge business with a never ending conveyor belt of ideas and products needing copious amounts of references and inspirations. One minute it’s rainbows, then unicorns, then llamas, and whatever next, and who knows where these images come from and what they mean to different people.
In an era of ‘Cultural Appropriation’ and ‘Blackface’ controversies, brands will, now, always err on the side of guilty. This is guilty until proven innocent and a way of limiting the social media outcry and killing the thing stone dead. It’s just not worth the hassle.
From Katy Perry’s shoes to Prada’s figurines to Gucci’s roll-neck, we’re now clear on what should definitely be erased from the design vocabulary. But, won’t this limit the scope of references at the disposal of brands and designers and lead to boring collections frightened to reference motifs and cultural imagery? Won’t it be a case of collections designed by lawyers to satisfy the small print and devoid of anything challenging or different? Every moodboarded person will be researched and investigated in a Stasi-like, 1984 approach into finding anything controversial in their background. You just wonder how Coco Chanel gets away with it.
Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer, famous for this Indian embroidery and ethnic motifs, told Business of Fashion in 2017, “For me, other cultures have always been a starting point. But I never took things very literal. Quite often, we take one element that we like...and mix it to be something very personal,” he said. “It’s like layering. Indian- or African-inspired or ethnic-inspired...it has to be clothes people want to wear now. Clothes that are used to express who they are. To me, that’s the final goal.”
Left - Louis Vuitton menswear referencing The Wiz, the sequel to the Wizard of Oz, which starred Michael Jackson and followed Abloh's first collection with Dorothy was the main inspiration
“I look now more to the art world, for several reasons, I still make elements and references to ethnic things, but it has become more difficult now.” In response to Cultural Appropriation he said, “The only ethnicity I could look at is Belgian folklore.… It’s not that I exactly copy them and it's not that I want to hurt people by using certain things,” he said. “It’s the alphabet of fashion, which I use to create my own things. Sometimes, especially with menswear, you have to work with recognisable things. You have to make things that men know.”
His latest collection references the Danish designer Verner Panton, but what if Panton turns out to a few skeletons in his closet? For example, imagine you created a collection around the much loved Beatles’ song, Penny Lane. Referencing the fireman, the banker and nurse selling poppies from a tray, but then somebody points out the famous street in Liverpool is named after James Penny, an eighteenth-century slave trader. It’s knowing when the line of history needs to be drawn or how far back you investigate the reference. Rather than seeing people celebrating these things, many are seeing it as a hijacking, and limit people to only use the culture they identify with; making a very boring and restrictive design vocabulary.
The world moves forward and things change. Everything needs to be judged on an individual case-by-case basis and the decision is an informed and instinctive knowing when something isn’t right, appropriate or we’ve moved on as a society. We’re all learning this, all of the time.
Different cultures think differently about things and being frivolous or decorative about things with deeper meanings should be used with caution.
Right - Pixelated Michael Jackson on Louis Vuitton accessorises
Brands make things to sell, not to upset anybody, but won’t our oversensitivity limit the references we have at our disposal. We’re in an era of seeing the negative in everything and blowing it up on social media and it could lead to a very bland and beige period of fashion.
It’s September, which means new season, fresh ideas, shopping, putting more clothes on, having your eye on something and changing things up. Well, at the recent 75th Venice Film Festival, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke jumped forward all the way to next SS19.
At the premiere of Luca Guadagnino’s - the director of Call Me By Your Name - new horror film, Suspiria, he was wearing the latest collection from Dries van Noten. Inspired by the 60s designer, Verner Panton, the collection - see more here - is a beautifully kaleidoscope of wavy colour and was firmly on my must-have list for next season.
This inspired me to look at Thom’s other outfits during the festival to promote the film's soundtrack. From the natural tan sandals, which will change colour over time, to the nonchalant summer scarf to the honey coloured lensed sunglasses, you won't go far wrong by copying Thom for your next warm holiday wardrobe.
Left & Below - Radiohead's Thom Yorke in Dries van Noten SS19
Far Left - Style in Venice - Honey coloured lenses and matching frames and a double breasted jacket
Left - Move over Benedict, Thom is in town
TheChicGeek says, “The last dunhill fragrance, 'Icon', back in 2015, set the standard for the modern range of dunhill men’s fragrances. I was a fan - see more here and four incarnations later, it’s time for something new.
‘Century’ is their latest offering. The perfumer is Carlos Benaim and features refreshing top notes of bergamot, grapefruit and mandarin. A base of sandalwood, warming olibanum - frankincense - and fragrant neroli sits on sandalwood, musk and cypriol
As somebody at the press launch said, this smells like a posh body wash. The type that stays on your skin in a soft, soapy and background kind of way. That's not to be derogatory and there are plenty of people who don't want shouty fragrances. This is very subtle and warm, with the mixture of neroli and sandalwood, and, pleasingly, is an easy wearer in a quality and sophisticated way. It's just not something you'll be able to pick out distinctively in a line-up, but it's still good at what it does.
The bottle is one of the best I’ve seen for a while. It’s very Verner Panton - the designer was a major influence for SS19 - see SS19 Milan/Paris Trends Scrapbook here - and looks like a paperweight from the 1960s. It’s disappointing the magnetic, curved top doesn’t fit perfectly into the recesses on the side. This probably says more about me being on the spectrum than anything else!
This is an accomplished fragrance from dunhill and makes their collection of fragrances some of the best packaged in the mainstream men’s market."
Left - dunhill London - Century - 75ml EDP - £59
Available now exclusively to Harrods. Launches nationwide from the 6th August 2018
Male Daisy Dukes
Putting the duke into Daisy Duke, okay, so they're usually denim, but these shorts are seriously short.
Top Left - Prada, Dior Homme, Fendi, Hermès
From Left - SS World Corp, Maison Margiela, Jacquemus, Prada
More Bad Denim
Is there any other type of denim these days? It keeps on getting worse and it ain't going away.
Above - Prada, Alyx, Balmain, CMMN SWDN, Off-White
Left - Valentino, Versace
Burnt neck? Don’t worry the summer roll-neck's got you. These were made for a British summer.
Left - Both - Prada
Brown Art Suit
I just love this. Simples.
Left - Dries van Noten
Verner Panton was the inspiration at Dries (left) and this carried over to Prada and Raf.
Left - Prada, Raf Simons
If you've seen more untucking than Rupaul's Drag Race, it's now time to let those French cuffs hangout. Goodbye cufflinks!
Below Both - Alexander McQueen
Caping was once massive eyeroll at fashion week, but, now, you can put your shoulders in!
From Left - Alexander McQueen, CMMN SWDN, Maison Margiela
The Scarf With Coat Attached
Trust Raf Simons do give us something we didn't know we needed. It won't blow away!
Below - Raf Simons, Raf Simons
How many green coats do you own? Exactly. Nothing welcomes spring like the Green Man. May Day alert!
Left - Dries van Noten, Raf Simons, Comme des Garcons
Left - Dunhill, Dolce & Gabbana, Thom Browne, Versace
Yellow hasn't mellowed, in fashion terms, it's just got brighter.
From Left - Raf Simons, Dior Homme, Ermenegildo Zegna
Left - Hermès, Thom Browne, Jacquemus, Versace
Don't be a dummy, get a bucket hat with the baby ties.
From Left - Ami, Fendi, Stella McCartney
The Longer DB
This season saw the beginnings of something more grown-up and less novelty. It starts with the double-breasted, longer jacket.
Above From Left - Ami, Dior Homme, CMMN SWDN, Dunhill, Versace
Below - Left - Kenzo, Louis Vuitton, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Thom Browne
We've had latex and leather trousers, now, it's time for the shiny, plastic looking shirt.
From Left - CMMN SWDN, Wooyoungmi, Dior Homme
Half & Half
Yin & Yang your look. It's as clear as night and day.
From Left - Maison Margiela, Alexander McQueen
You won't find this in any army surplus shop, but it makes you want to get in the big outdoors.
Below From Left - DSquared2, Neil Barrett
Just say 'Auntie Donatella knitted it for me, daarling!'.
From Left - Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Versace