But to the collection. Abloh took chess as one of his organizing themes—for salient, timely reasons beyond the binary clash between the cultures of suits and tracksuits. “The game of chess, as it relates to life. This idea of two entities that always battle in a strategic way. Also, how the same pieces are divided by color on the board, that makes them inherently at odds,” he said. “ I thought there were some great parallels as we come out of 2020 in the cultural context. Then I linked that to the Damier print in the Louis Vuitton archive. So I was looking at the brand, interpreting things through a historical lens.”
It gave him and his stylist Ibrahim Kamara the keynote for the chess-piece silhouettes—identified by tall hats, furry headphone headgear, and the long lines of skirts, “like the queen, the knights, and pawns, perhaps. That’s where the dreamlike sort of silhouettes began to take shape. And the other half of the collection is the battling opposite, all the gray suits.” The bright colors and tie-dyed semiotics of rave—neon green, yellow, electric blue—jump out of the look-book pictures: lots of cheerful, grabby fashion fun there for next spring.
But there’s yet more loaded symbolism that intersects with the skirted shapes, the padded vests, and armor-plated puffers in the show. For that, Abloh had centered himself on the imagery of kendo, the Japanese martial art, a reference honoring the memory of the Wu-Tang Clan and how hip-hop brought the knowledge and influence of Japanese and Chinese martial arts into his youth.
“I very much appreciated those narratives about how martial arts spreads across different cultures and becomes something new wherever it lands, and that was key,” he reflected. “Diversity represents highlighting other cultures, not just my own—and making space to share those. The things we’ve seen in the pandemic regarding Black culture and Asian culture, to me, are enough to make me want to keep diversity at the forefront of how I think about what fashion is today.”
In the film, directed by Mahfuz Sultan and star-studded with heroes like Goldie, a sense of male-world tension and the underlying threat of masculine competition run through the nonlinear narrative. Where it came from was Abloh’s absorption of The Lone Wolf and Cub movie when he was a child in Chicago. Where he took it, though, was very much of now: the idea of a father protecting and teaching his child to survive through the trials and perils of the dangerous world. “That very much fits into my overarching ethos about boyhood. They’re navigating through these landscapes and through the chess game—the turmoil of it,” he said. “It’s just metaphoric: parent and offspring, the layer of protection that’s needed in uncertainty.”