“INSERT A BETTER WORLD HERE”

February 22, 2021

The future of fashion shows has been one of the most recurrent conversations of the past year. Living in a world where people cannot gather or socialize nor travel, designers and brands have had to readjust the ways in which messages are communicated and the garments of the future are presented to both, the audience and the fashion professionals. Thus, the act of presenting fashion’s perspective of what is going to happen next season has gone from being a kind of spectacle-event to being a digital form of content that ensures the perfect “alone together” experience typical of our times. As a result, we have witnessed an even greater boost of creativity and innovation: from fashion shows in boxes or in the shape of books (Loewe), digital experiences with VR (Balenciaga), experimental movies and short films (Marni, Gucci) to digital cultural experiences (Off-White’s Imaginary TV)

On top of these changes, another key subject matter that has been key for the fashion leaders and thinkers (although it is arguable whether it has always been implemented in a genuine manner by every single brand and fashion entity) is the call for diversity and inclusivity. The call for a better world that fashion has tried to mirror throughout its history. Which, given the racists and violent happenings that we also unfortunately witnessed this past year, is particularly relevant. 

Fashion has historically served as a tool that might not have directly produced change, but whose messages have helped shaping societal evolution. Thus, rethinking the beliefs and messages, as well as reviewing the motifs behind brands, professionals and other creatives encompassing this whole industry is not just relevant, but necessary if we aim to continue disrupting current perceptions, for betterment’s sake, through fashion. Therefore, if I had to personally give any kind of award to the greatest show of the season, I would definitely choose “Peculiar Contrast, Perfect Light”: the Louis Vuitton FW21 (digital) show presenting Virgil Abloh’s collection storyline “E B O N I C S”, which was live-streamed on YouTube but has remained as a brilliant, and relevant, multidisciplinary short movie that mixes poetry, dance and, of course, fashion. A film, directed by Wu Tsang, that everyone should watch. 

But why? 

Regardless of the collection, which is a sublime illustration of traditional men’s clothing designed in a contemporary and diverse context. There are several remarkable characteristics about this project that are worth commenting. From the brilliance of the diverse team that made it happen, the concept and message of the collection and the video, to its aesthetic and artistic value as a film in itself. However, the key one I consider essential to highlight is the relevance of what was said (in a genuine manner). The stories and ideas that have been made visible, as well as the talents that have been given the opportunity to be heard. 

After the launch, Virgil Abloh posted in his personal instagram account “My whole being has been poured out into this film here. The only thing important to me right now is that the names in the credits and every member of my @louisvuitton team feels their genius. It’s not just fashion or films we make, it’s space for new stories and artworks to be placed.” And in the next post, he enumerated the extensive list of young talents that were able to creatively shine thanks to this project; from Kai Isaiah Jamal, Yasiin Bey, Saul Williams, Ib Kamara, Lina Kutsovskaya to Asmara–to mention just a few. 

But what does the story tell?

The film starts with a mysterious and elegant man (interpreted by Saul Williams) wearing a long black coat and a refreshed version of a fedora hat. The man is walking in the middle of a beautiful snowed landscape and holding a silver (Louis Vuitton’s iconic) truck, while fairytale-like music is played. After a few seconds, a mysterious voice starts to say: “In this white wilderness”. And slowly, the beauty of the visuals, along with the music and the mystery that is displayed, begins to immerse us into the grandiose and peaceful panorama. A place in the middle of nowhere that might bring about a sense of peace and freedom, yet it possibly represents the opposite: the feeling of alienation felt by black people, such as James Baldwin, “who were rarely seen” in places such as Switzerland. The feeling of being a “sight” by those people who consider you a “Nigger”, as the acclaimed writer expresses in his essay “Stranger in the Village” (1953)– in which the film is based. Or as Virgil Abloh puts it: “Tourists vs. Purists”. However, the narrative seems to disrupt itself, as the voice continues. Looking at the camera, the character says: “I am no stranger anymore. The world is love to me. The snow will melt, the eyes will thaw; and make it up to me:” 

Might this be a message of hope?

Suddenly the snowed landscape vanishes, and the music changes. The unknown male character comes into a tasteful Bauhaus-like space. Potentially, a dreamy, and abstract, representation of the village. A village shaped by green-white marbled walls forming different spaces (streets) decorated with unperceivable artful white seats. He merges with other elegantly dressed characters, who start to appear in the, now crowded, village. Some seem to be talking to each other, some are sitting on the simulating benches, some are just walking; while the main character continues to go around, walking smileless and solitarily. A new voice keeps on repeating: “Take down the walls. Take down the walls. Deconstruct the narrative.” “Make it up to me.” 

The anguish evoked by the music rises, an anguish that, as described by Bawldin, has been felt by black people as a result of the history of whiteness that has been imposed upon them. 

As the stress of the sound intensifies, so does the speed of the character who starts to recitate names of thinkers, musicians, jazz singers, activists, writers, etc. from across the globe, across cultures and who had lived throughout history. Possibly an ode to humankind, and its potential power of creation, innovation and evolution; while calling attention to the unnamed, manifesting a critique against the notion of appropriation and reappropriation of cultural heritages.  

In the essay, the writer describes the history that has engendered this unequal situation, the “peculiar status” of black people in the Western world. That is the history of Europe and America, both of which have imposed a narrative based on conquest and supremacy, thus, causing the alienation, marginalization and loss of black people’s right to their culture and identity. “I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even, in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know, who yet do not even know of my existence” (1953, p.3) Bawldin writes. 

Can we, then, deconstruct this narrative?

A new character appears (interpreted by Malik Le Nost). He, who was lying on the floor since the beginning, is also elegantly dressed in a grey suit and wears a modish version of the fedora hat and the do-rag. He comes to life, dancing around a space surrounded by stunning marble walls, where a group of people gather as flawless sculptures. In the meantime, the narrative continues to be voiced-over (now by a different voice): “I think as black people and as trans people and as marginalized people the world is here for I’ll take it, for it takes so much from us.” It keeps on narrating.

Despite this history, “black people have won”, Baldwin and Abloh claim. The illusion “of returning to a state in which black men do not exist” is “one of the greatest errors Americans can make.” (Bawldin, 1953, p.6) The writer continues: “the battle for his identity [black man] has long ago been won. He is not a visitor to the West, but a citizen there, an American; as American as the Americans who despise him, the Americans who fear him, the Americans who love him-the Americans who became less than themselves, or rose to be greater than themselves by virtue of the fact that the challenge he represented was inescapable.” (1953, p.6) Accordingly, the answer is yes. The narrative can begin to be deconstructed.

The greysuited character takes the silver trunk and hands it to a new main character (interpreted by Yassin Bey). He is dressed in a monochrome black outfit, with matching green boots and a multicolored coat imprinted with LV’s logo. As he begins to move slowly within the village, it stars to become more and more crowded. Until a diverse cast of solemn walkers appear, moving restlessly: some of these people walk and exchange their bags, some are marching in synchrony, some are moving as though they were painting the space with their dance. All of them are dressed in a diverse amalgame of revisited traditional male shapes and unrecognizable semiotics, yet each of them seems anew. The sound swapps. The rhythm of the music swells little by little, and the anguish along with it. The character starts to rap intensely. The passion of his voice is palpable. And he repeats: “You can’t stop my goal, born to be what I am, a bright light from a distant star. Miracle!” And we read Bawldin’s last line of the essay: “The world is no longer, and it will never be white again.” 

The light fades. And there is hope. 

The narrative can be deconstructed. 

Now, let’s make it happen. 

Let’s deconstruct the narrative so we can truly get to live in this village, where everyone’s identity is respected and embraced. In a better world, where there are only “tourists” who truly belong to where they want to be in that moment.

“Peculiar contrast, Perfect Light” – Men’s FW21 Fashion Show, Louis Vuitton
Written for @Smithsmagazine