The multi-disciplinary designer regularly intersected the luxury and streetwear categories, pushing traditional fashion norms out of the mainstream and into the depths of subcultures. Abloh said the Nike Air Force 1 was “a cultural symbol in its own right”.
Louis Vuitton brought this major project of Abloh’s to the public in the most authentic way possible: through story, art and imagination. The Greenpoint warehouse has been transformed to provide various immersive experiences linked to the sneakers, Abloh’s design process, previous sets and campaigns, and his childhood dream of having a treehouse.
Inside the exhibition
Entering the warehouse, visitors can watch a video of the sneakers being made at the Maisons factories in Fiesso d’Artico. Wander through the mirrored monoliths where sneakers are positioned on each side in different stances. Peer into holographic projections of sneakers while moving your hands and the digital sneaker comes apart revealing different aspects of the shoe. Toward the back of the warehouse is a treehouse decorated similar to Abloh’s rue du Pont Neuf studio as well as a DJ setup – a sentimental reference to Abloh’s playful attitude and approach to work and design.
To bring greater awareness of the exhibition to Brooklyn and surrounding areas, several large globe artefacts in glass boxes have been positioned in New York’s Domino Park, Grand Central, South Street Seaport, Astor Place, Columbus Circle, Flatiron Plaza, and Gansevoort Plaza. The globes symbolise unifying people, something Abloh consistently weaved into his art and initiatives.
Earlier this year, 200 pairs of the LV monogram AF1 style were auctioned at Sotheby’s online. The collection was scheduled for release in 2021 but the auction was delayed out of respect for Abloh’s family. It is believed that he had been involved in early planning for the auction and its associated events. The auction raised $25.3 million, with sneakers selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pair.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit The Virgil Abloh Post-Modern Scholarship Fund. An initiative Abloh created in 2020 to support the next generation of black fashion industry leaders. Abloh’s scholarship fund is part of the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) a non-profit organisation established in 1937 to provide promising fashion-oriented students from diverse backgrounds opportunities in the industry.
A cultural symbol
What makes this exhibition even more culturally relevant is the 40th anniversary of the Nike Air Force 1 shoe. The global sports brand designed the basketball trainer in 1982; it would become the most successful style ever created and symbolic in black culture.
“It distills everything I’m saying into an object. The Air Force 1 is a basketball shoe, but through hip-hop culture it has energised a representative sculpture. It means a lot to very specific people,” Abloh told the Financial Times last year.
The 1988 album It Takes Two, by American hip-hop duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, brought Nike Air Force 1’s into the spotlight. On the album cover, DJ E-Z Rock wore a pair of the shoes with an altered Nike Swoosh in the Louis Vuitton monogram, by Harlem-based designer Dapper Dan. In the ’80s and ’90s, Dapper Dan was the premier designer and stylist to gangsters, celebrities, and hip-hop stars. He was known for incorporating knock-off luxury prints, eventually resulting in several copyright infringement cases.
These were early examples of hip hop and black culture combining sportswear and luxury logos. It signalled an era of remixing fashion and making it accessible to a large community that experienced racial discrimination every day. Many retailers and luxury brands refused to sell to people of colour at the time. Abloh elevated this dichotomy through his label Off White, the collections he led as men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, and constant questioning of the entire fashion industry.
The Dream Now exhibition continues to highlight his queries. As you walk around, visitors read and ponder the text “Who did it first? Where did they get the idea? Is it new?”
As much as this is a temporary exhibition, there is a permanence to Abloh’s vision that will live on. The quotation marks Abloh is known for, historic collaborations he facilitated, and lives affected all become thoughts and memories captured in the products he designed.
As for sneakerheads keen to cop a pair, nine colourways from this collection will be made available in June to Louis Vuitton’s community first and then the general public, via a digital activation. Be prepared to spend between US$2750 and US$3450. There’s no doubt these will fetch far higher prices once they hit the secondary sneaker market.