We Need To Talk About Louis
Now that the dust has well and truly settled surrounding the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration previewed in January at PFW, it is possible to take a step back from the somewhat chaotic aftermath and really get to grips with the situation at hand - that being: why did this collaboration happen, what are the implications for both brands, and what does this mean for the fashion industry.
From the moment the collection was previewed, almost everyone has been extremely eager to offer their two cents on the matter (myself included). And since the show, responses have ranged from ‘this is a monumental moment in contemporary fashion’ to complete indifference. The first question that popped into my mind when I heard of this collaboration was: ‘why?’ With over a month passed, I have come to realise that this partnership, and more specifically the reasons behind it, can be broken down into three key parts, namely: the marketing potential of such a collaboration; the cross pollination of brands to address the ever blurring lines of men’s fashion; and the desire to (for lack of a better phrase) ‘stay relevant’.
Whilst many were surprised at the sheer number of products produced by this unlikely pairing, most ‘fashion insiders’ reported to have had some sense that this partnership was on the cards, due to numerous rumours circulating the industry. So it was less a matter of if, and more a matter of when. However, for those of us who have not been adorned with such nonsensical titles, the collaboration definitely came as a shock, which only further fuelled the prevalence of the matter on all forms of social media. And from a fairly superficial reading of the subject, it is pretty clear why these two brands decided to bash heads – as we have seen, the collection received an unparalleled amount of exposure, and almost all of it free. Even if you have no interest in fashion, there is a fairly large likelihood that this will have crossed your radar at some point. Regardless of where you stand on the actual products, there is no doubt that this was a smart move, marketing wise, by both companies. However, I would argue that this only scrapes the surface with respect to fully understanding the intentions behind this mix.
Whacking two logos together doesn't necessarily make it work
Other than the obvious marketing benefits, why did both brands feel the need to collaborate considering such stark narratives? Louis Vuitton is one of the world’s most renowned high-end fashion houses, standing at 163 years old, dwarfing its entirely disparate skate-centric partner, Supreme, by 140 years. Whilst comparing age is somewhat arbitrary, comparing both legacy and direction is not. With this in mind, questions must be asked about why these two decided to team up, especially from the perspective of LV.
Without wanting to sound too grandiose, there is a definite sense that the parameters of men’s fashion have witnessed some fairly seismic shifts in the last few years or so (perhaps epitomised by the show in question). Streetwear has seen a meteoric rise over the last five years, and the brand sitting firmly at the front, spearheading this movement, has been Supreme. Whilst formerly an underground, rebellious skate-brand, Supreme no longer holds the title of New York’s best kept secret. With weekly drops selling out almost without fail, the brand has risen to unprecedented heights, arguably to the level of being the most talked about brand in men’s fashion – whether it deserves such attention is a different matter altogether. However, with this rapid growth, and increasing notoriety, Supreme has acted as a lynchpin in changing men’s fashion, as streetwear has slowly begun to command the industry.
With these shifts in tow, yet with larger high-end companies still very much prevalent, men’s fashion seems to be at a fairly confusing crossroads – people are interested now more so than ever in the matter, and are desperately seeking a way to gather a better understanding of fashion, and in turn, their own personal style. However, achieving this hasn’t been all that simple - with the rapid growth of fashion blogs, Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, influencing people’s opinion has never been easier, and as such, achieving this ‘personal style’ has become increasingly difficult. Certain brands seem to hold a ‘style-monopoly’ over many of these blogs, and styles that may have originally been individualistic, become ubiquitous, as people are told what is, and what isn’t cool. These styles are consumed, and multiple copies of the same person are reproduced, and any chance of an entirely personal style is squandered. The running theme throughout these blogs seems to be that streetwear brands hold this ‘monopoly’. The reasons for this are two-fold, yet pretty much intertwined – namely that: young streetwear brands seem to have a firmer grasp of social media than many of the older, high-end companies, and that these younger brands target exactly those people that have access, or control of the blogs, and groups that dominate, and influence people’s opinions. Whilst this isn’t to say, by any stretch, that all these older companies don’t understand social media, or that they don’t also target similar demographics, but that men’s fashion, at the moment, is fairly firmly in the grips of the more contemporary brands, due to their much more accessible, marketable, and affordable nature. And it seems exactly due to this reason that menswear has seen such a shift towards streetwear, and much more wearable clothing in recent years (as seen recently at Gucci, in particular). This cross-pollination of LV and Supreme was, then, the result of a growing ambiguity within men’s fashion that saw these two companies work together to utilise each other’s attributes to the best effect. While there is no doubt that this was a wily decision from Supreme, I can’t help but feel that LV could have still managed a transference to a more streetwear oriented fashion line, without ‘selling out’, so to speak.
Some genuinely nice clothes
It seems fairly apparent that LV wanted to use Supreme’s current status as streetwear top dog to gain maximum coverage; and to that effect, they were successful. However, what made me have doubts about the collaboration, as a whole, were the actual clothes, and accessories produced. For Supreme, this was nothing new: they did what they do best and stuck a logo on something, and it will sell due to that. And while LV have, in the past, done similarly, recently they have moved further away from heavily branded items, and paid more attention to the silhouettes and fabrics used (which can be seen in the non-collaborative pieces shown). With this shift in identity, it seemed to me a step in the wrong direction for the brand – it seemed like an attempt to stay relevant. My issue with this is that the non-collaborative products shown were really impressive, and captured an extremely wearable, and chic vibe that successfully traversed the streetwear/high-end line. By including heavily branded Supreme accessories and clothing, I felt nothing was added to the show – none of it was particularly imaginative, and I felt it took away from the unbranded LV pieces. Now, of course my view is entirely subjective, but I can’t help but feel that this collaboration was a dent on LV’s standing as a major fashion house. People will, and have argued that the pairing was a success, yet it seems to me that LV just decided to ride Supreme’s wave, and added little to no convincing designs to make it commendable.
I am far from arguing that from Supreme’s perspective the products were well designed - in fact, I don’t think that they were - yet I was not expecting much more from them at all. What I do think is that Supreme did well to wangle this coup, considering they most probably did very little to contribute to the running of the show, yet managed to achieve the enormous exposure that they did, regardless of this. On the contrary, I think that LV’s decision to collaborate was not so laudable, but rather an unnecessary, and disappointing move. Considering that the non-collaborative pieces captured the ever-elegant, yet casual Parisian style, in comparison, the collaborative pieces felt both clumsy, and almost jarring. For a brand with such a rich history, appealing so blatantly to streetwear’s fast-fashion culture, in my opinion, reeked of desperation.
Where this leaves us is entirely uncertain – we may see more LV/Supreme collaborations, we may see other high-end brands do the same, or we may never see this again. Regardless of which one, if any, of these happen, we can be sure that people will talk about it. However, if menswear remains this confused, making such predictions remains almost pointless, and as such, we will just have to wait and see.
Photos courtesy of Vogue Runway