Text by Manifesto | Photos courtesy of Louis Vuitton
Virgil Abloh, artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear

He is the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton and is luxury fashion’s very own surrealist and storyteller. Virgil Abloh talks about what we can expect for spring-summer 2021 and how he plans to hypnotise adults.

MANIFESTO: What inspired the childlike puppets in your spring-summer 2021 collection?

VIRGIL ABLOH: Zoooom with Friends, as I call them, were inspired by my Ghanaian heritage. My parents were Ghanaian migrants. I grew up surrounded by West African art and culture, from hand-carved statuettes to wooden masks and spiritual doll references. I spliced this inspiration with pieces from the Louis Vuitton archives: the teddy bear from the spring-summer 2005 collection by Marc Jacobs and the animal-like leather goods by Billie Achilleos from 2011. That’s how the puppets came to life.

M: Why did these references end up looking like puppets?

VA: I was shopping for presents for my kids in a toy store in Paris in January 2020, casually sticking stuffed animals in all my pockets. When I saw my own reflection, teddy bears popping out of all my pockets, it clicked. In my mind, it linked to my ideology of Boyhood, an overarching motif I employ within my work at Louis Vuitton, which promotes a childlike perspective.

Louis Vuitton's spring-summer 2021 menswear show in Shanghai

M: How did you convey the motivations behind the spring-summer 2021 collection?

VA: For the Shanghai show, I wrote a manifesto devoted to my ongoing objective: embedding my collections with Black Imagination, and supporting and hiring BIPOC and LGBTQ+ causes and people. In the show notes that accompanied it, there were several references to my Ghanaian heritage, just like the vocabulary I update every season echoed the beliefs and references proposed in those other documents.

M: What is Black Imagination?

VA: Black Imagination is my ethos at Louis Vuitton. It means to imbue Black peoples, cultures, subcultures, arts and iconographies within imagery that has traditionally excluded Black identities, such as fashion and luxury. It is called Black Imagination because it is a way of manifesting Black dreams in real life. What I did with the puppets – imbuing a Louis Vuitton garment with a whimsical element inspired by my Ghanaian heritage, which is very dear to me – is Black Imagination on display.

Louis Vuitton's spring-summer 2021 menswear show in Shanghai

M: For those that don’t understand, explain the correlation between wood carving figures, masks and statues and your Ghanaian heritage?

VA: The art I grew up with at home wasn’t European by nature, it was Ghanaian. Wood carvings of masks and sculptures were the norm. They are similar in obvious spirit to a stuffed animal character. Under the collection’s overarching guise of Boyhood – the idea of seeing the world through the eyes of a child – those lines were drawn with my personal heritage to present expression.

Louis Vuitton's spring-summer 2021 menswear

M: Why did you present the collection as a parade?

VA: In America, where I grew up, parades are a manifestation of childlike wonder. They are fantasies come to life, which essentially hypnotise the mind with wonderment. The idea of parades connects to my Boyhood Ideology, which is about seeing the world through the unspoiled eyes of a child.

M: Can you elaborate on your Boyhood Ideology?

VA: The Boyhood Ideology is a narrative I came up with when I arrived at Louis Vuitton. I believe that, growing up, society embeds our minds with predetermined ideas of what is considered high or low, rich or poor, and possible or impossible. If we see the world through the eyes of a child, we liberate ourselves from these preconceived notions. The childlike elements you see in my work are my proposal for a more compassionate world view.

Virgil Abloh introduced West African art and culture, childhood memories, and the fashion house's heritage into the collection

M: What inspired the surreal patterns in the spring-summer 2021 collection?

VA: A main idea of the show was Hypnovisualism, my term for the notion of hypnotising adults. I mean this figuratively. In an age where we’ve tried every rational approach to making the world a better place, what if we could put an hypnosis on humanity and inspire everyone to be more compassionate towards one another?

M: How did you communicate this theme?

VA: The idea of Hypnovisualism connects to surrealism, an area I’ve been exploring for a while. In terms of the clothes and accessories, it’s about twisting the norm and making the ordinary extraordinary. The underlying message is about making the impossible possible. It relates to the Boyhood Ideology, to Black Imagination and the Upcycling Ideology we also debuted this season. Everything I do comes back to humanity.

Click here to watch a repeat of the Louis Vuitton spring-summer 2021 menswear runway show held in Shanghai.


StyleVirgil Abloh’s biggest challenge in 2021 is about trusting his gut feeling. After all, the 40-year-old didn’t get to where he is today – artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear, founder of Off-White, unofficial flag bearer of Black culture, a ... Read More
StyleAcquiring a new wardrobe today requires no further explanation other than a "just because”. After all, having spent large parts of 2020 being stuck on Netflix binges and Zoom calls at home means you can afford to splash a little ... Read More
StyleIn-between making cool furniture, spinning cool tunes and thinking cool thoughts of making other cool stuff, Virgil Abloh has also made fresh functional gear for Louis Vuitton, titled 2054. And if you have watched Ryan Gosling’s Blade Runner 2049 – ... Read More