In this moment of global anxiety, could the new menswear statement grail be…a stuffed animal?
The latest Louis Vuitton show, staged earlier this week in Tokyo, declared it to be so, fastening knit mice onto handbags, draping dragons and scorpions across jackets and over shoulders, and pinning elongated bears onto breast pockets like toybox boutonnieres.
Perhaps you’re having Vuitton déjà vu, recalling the high-energy collection unveiled in Shanghai just a few weeks ago that also featured plushy pals. This show, which introduced 59 new looks in addition to the 60 shown in Shanghai, is the next chapter in designer Virgil Abloh’s new seasonless model of fashion, which turns collections into globe-trotting extravaganzas. (While many brands, like Gucci and Saint Laurent, are doing away with such itinerant events, Abloh is betting that they are the future.) The Shanghai show provoked controversy for similarities between many of the stuffed animal pieces and ones created by Antwerp Six legend Walter Van Beirerndonck for fall 2016, but the newest creatures double down more directly on those first introduced in a short film back in July. (Whew!)
The most outrageous of the new Tokyo pieces featured Mike Kelley-esque assemblages of the whole zoo on the front of jackets and vests, like a midlayer garment. Another white suited model simply clutched a Vuitton-monogrammed bear under his arm, reminding us that amid last month’s cuddy contretemps, Abloh stated on Instagram that the toys were in fact referencing a spring 2005 Vuitton show in which then-designer Marc Jacobs sent out models clutching bears in homage to Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited antihero Sebastian Flyte. Between the Kelley evocation and the Brideshead reference, the animals struck a tone of slightly morose pathos.
The midlayer garment has been strangely central to menswear over the past few years, evolving from fanny pack to crossbody bag to fishing (or bulletproof) vest to sparkly Timothee Chalamet leather harness. It was a keystone of the warcore fashion movement that turned Helmut Lang workwear into something foreboding and made hypebeasts look strangely battle ready. This latest version suggests that menswear is headed in a direction more playful and creative, perhaps–though certainly more vulnerable, and maybe even delicate. Either way, it’ll look just as great on Chalamet.