Virgil Abloh’s latest ode to Louis Vuitton and Nike inspires new exhibition in Brooklyn

It would be an exaggeration to say that the exhibition “Louis Vuitton and Nike ‘Air Force 1’ by Virgil Abloh” is the polymath designer’s swan song. But it’s more than just a brand collaboration, and more personal than it first appears.

The exhibit opens tomorrow at a warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It consists of Abloh-designed iterations of the iconic Air Force 1 sneaker (introduced by Nike in 1982, the shoe turns 40 this year). Since its inception, the Air Force 1 has woven itself into pop culture, especially vivacious in hip hop. It was also Abloh’s date.

At today’s preview, silent attendees browsed the shoes as waiters handed out champagne and minis chocolate bread. Staff members talked about getting ready for opening night later tonight. Besides being the male artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Abloh was also a DJ. An eruption in his honor is apropos.

The Brooklyn warehouse became the Abloh x Louis Vuitton x Nike showroom. Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

The building was painted orange like a Nike shoebox. Next to the door, a gargantuan statue does the handstand – a hulking mandarin B-boy colossus from Rhodes in full breakdance. It is one of many such statues and sculptures scattered throughout the city.

The exhibition mixes fashion, art, dance music culture and design – essentially what Abloh has spent his career doing. But can the show also speak to a casual passerby who isn’t an Abloh follower or sneakerhead?

A childhood reminiscence fused with an adult dreamscape, the space is a vast cavern. Part gallery, part industrial shed, part nightclub, part shoe store, the walls are painted with the Abloh cloud pattern frequently used for Louis Vuitton. A treehouse-like DJ booth overlooks the surreal realm.

Air Force 1s are everywhere – behind display cases and mostly attached to walls in various configurations with dangling laces, complete with holograms for a 3D peek at the shoe directly adjacent.

Of the 47 pairs presented, nine will be on sale from next month (2,500 euros for the mid top, 2,000 euros for the low top). They were originally designed for use in Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2022 men’s show. A statement states that they were made “in the House’s Manufacture in Fiesso d’Artico, Venice, Italy” and that “each design fuses the original codes of the sneaker with the finest Louis Vuitton leathers, materials and insignia, and Virgil Abloh’s distinctive visual grammar.

Some of Abloh’s aphorisms, such as “What is myth and what is reality?” and “Who did it first?” Where did they get the idea? Is this new?” are inscribed on the walls. The latter was certainly a series of questions he was also often asked to answer.

A museum meets a nightclub meets a shoe store in Brooklyn.  Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

A museum meets a nightclub meets a shoe store in Brooklyn. Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Of course, it’s impossible not to over-analyze Abloh’s subsequently published work since his passing last year. “Designer” is a very limited title for him; “creative director” was a more appropriate moniker.

Abloh’s art wasn’t just the clothes that paraded, it was how he designed the whole experience. Her shows and storytelling encompassed a holistic view of fashion.

By centering people of color, its cast rewrote the luxury brand’s rulebook, as did its emphasis on grand, immersive set design. He was indeed a showman, but his ego never got in the way of what he presented. Abloh was the star of the show, but also the man behind the curtain.

It made sense that he riffed on The Wizard of Oz during her Louis Vuitton debut in the fall of 2018. On sweaters and other garments in the collection, Dorothy and her band were pictured jumping down the yellow brick road. Abloh himself showed each of their virtues: bravery, intelligence, heart, and finding his way through thick and thin.

It will be difficult to follow in his footsteps, especially when the shoes are hanging on the wall.

“Louis Vuitton and Nike ‘Air Force 1’ by Virgil Abloh” runs May 21-31 at the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse at 73 West Street in Brooklyn. It is free and open every day from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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