When an artist’s death takes the world by surprise, viewing their final works tends to elicit a mixture of admiration and melancholy. This is the case of the New York exhibition of 47 pairs of Louis Vuitton and Nike Air Force 1 sneakers created by Virgil Abloh. The shoe represents part of the legacy of Virgil Abloh, the American designer who died on November 28, 2021, at the age of 41, after a private battle with cancer.
The exhibit, which opened on May 20 and remains open to the public until May 31, features the sneakers first seen in Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2022 men’s collection, which debuted in June 2021. .
The Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse in Brooklyn houses the exhibit, which does not charge admission. The building announces the show with an electric orange facade painted for the occasion, flanked by a sculpture of a breakdancer wearing sneakers from the collaboration between Louis Vuitton, Nike and Abloh.
The installation evokes Abloh’s spirit of playfulness and audacity. The 47 pairs in the show, all made in Louis Vuitton’s Fiesso d’Artico workshop in Venice, Italy, are playfully arranged around a space that resembles a house of mirrors. The walls are adorned with clouds, a reference to the visuals of Abloh’s presentations and campaigns, while the sneakers appear on magnetic walls that allow them to be seen from all angles.
The sneakers include Abloh’s signature quotation marks around the word “Air”, emphasizing the shoes’ distinctive, counter-cultural identity. The color palette ranges from neutrals to rich tones, with vibrant textures of whites and reds, whites and blues, golds and multicolors, some featuring a graffiti print. Each shoe in the exhibition is accompanied by a screen with a three-dimensional digital version that the viewer can manipulate.
The exhibition ends with a tree house, a reference to the refuge that so many children desire. Inside the viewer finds an audio-visual recording of Abloh’s design process, including inspiration boards and a video that shows the designer in action.
The exhibition precedes the commercial launch of nine models of high-end sneakers: the mid-tops will be sold for 2,500 euros while the low ones will cost 2,000 euros. Pre-orders will be available to select Louis Vuitton community, while the June launch will be via a special digital campaign, the brand said in a press release.
Abloh founded fashion house Off White in 2013 and served as artistic director of menswear line Louis Vuitton from 2017 to 2021. His unexpected death sparked many thoughts about his place in fashion. “The world has lost a fashion superstar, an innovator, a designer for the history books,” said designer Donatella Versace.
Each creation in the exhibition reveals Abloh’s urban influence, the vocabulary of materials juxtaposing leather alongside the Louis Vuitton monogram and checkerboard pattern. The installation cites the questions that shaped Abloh’s creative process: “Who did it first?” “Where did this idea come from?” “Is this idea new?
Besides his bold work for Louis Vuitton, Abloh’s collaboration with Nike unites two cultural icons. 2022 marks 40 years of the Nike Air Force 1, a symbol of pop culture. Basketball shoes, designed by Bruce Kilgore and presented in 1982, mix references to hip-hop and streetwear and have entered the collective imagination.
“I’m not comfortable with the status quo,” Abloh said in a 2018 interview with Hypebeast, discussing his goal of elevating streetwear and celebrating the influence of black culture on fashion. This goal resonates through the show.
The sneakers have had significant commercial success: in early 2022, 200 pairs were sold at Sotheby’s for a total of $25.3 million. Proceeds from the auction went to the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, an organization that advances Abloh’s mission to promote equity and inclusion in the fashion industry by providing scholarships to promising students of African American and African descent.
The scholarship, in conjunction with the Fashion Scholarship Fund, is a crucial effort to address the lack of diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry. An Instagram post announcing the designer’s death noted that Abloh regularly said, “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself.” The words are reflected in her faith in the scholarship fund and her youthful aesthetic.
In addition to celebrating Abloh’s artistry, this show highlights the designer’s optimism. The exhibit is a memento of her life, vision and work as her heartbeat continues to resonate through the fashion industry.