The gentle music of a harp begins to play. A lone figure, bundled in a black suit and hat, trudges through pure, white snow. The rising sun glints off a chrome suitcase that is grasped in his hand, embossed with the LV Monogram. A stranger in the snow.
The scene evolves. Ice skaters, donning crisp Louis Vuitton suits, leisurely dance across the ice.
The man appears again. He emerges from an arched blue entryway, alone. He is in a room with giant walls of marble and mirrors, with sterile white lights streaming down upon him. He follows a set path. More men enter, dressed in suits of red and grey, clutching coffee cups and newspapers. Some weary men are sprawled out along the ground. A pale yellow bag passes by, reading TOURIST VS PURIST in blood red. The harp collides with the sounds of crashing cymbals and drum beats. One man performs an interpretive dance around still bodies, adorned in various ways. Fedoras, kilts, cowboy boots, overcoats with trailing tails. A rap song starts against a pounding beat. Men in bulky puffer jackets, shaped to be miniature skylines of New York and Paris. A leather bag sculpted to resemble a plane.
The music stops, and darkness follows.
I sit back, staring at my laptop screen in bewilderment. What did I just watch?
The Louis Vuitton Fall 2021 Menswear Collection––Peculiar Contrast, Perfect Light––is another wild foray from designer Virgil Abloh. I describe it as haute couture cowboys, stoically strutting to catch their flights. Think Lil Nas X in JFK Airport. The collection is apparently exploring the “unconscious biases instilled in our collective psyche by the archaic norms of society”. A hefty way to justify expensively artful, conventionally unattractive fashion. It’s the same for nearly every runway show. A colloquial term that I think better describes it: ugly fashion. Despite this, I can unashamedly say I enjoyed every second of the strange runway short film. I love ugly clothes.
It seems others do too. Louis Vuitton is thriving. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury group and parent company of Louis Vuitton, reported a revenue growth of 20% in their fashion and leather goods sector, in the first quarter of 2019. Coincidently, Virgil Abloh became Louis Vuitton’s menswear Artistic Director the year before. He’s been credited for breaking fashion boundaries ever since he founded the ironically designed Off-White brand in 2013.
You are allowed to be sceptical of my proclamation; I have been known to put together a questionable outfit or two. Especially as a young child, when my chosen winter wear would consist of gumboots, a silky pastel pink or purple Barbie nightie (I needed two for when one was in the wash) over a long sleeve top, complete with my favourite deep violet-coloured crocheted bucket hat featuring frolicking dolphins. Perfect attire for splashing in puddles. However, you can’t deny how we look upon ugly sweaters, maybe embellished with Christmas baubles and leaping reindeer, with a sort of fondness and feel an overwhelming sense of cosiness when enveloped in their warmth. A disdainful ‘I don’t get it’ is a common reaction from those outside the fashion bubble when seeing the collections of luxury brands. I can see how most people would be aghast seeing a cropped, fuzzy pink woollen Gucci sweater with a large embroidered cauliflower on the front being sold for over $2,000 AUD. I probably wouldn’t purchase it, even if money was abundant… but it does look so cosy.
What is ‘ugly fashion’?
Ugliness popped up as a fashion trend last year, a result of the ‘90s ‘Dad aesthetic’ and athleisure wear intertwining. Characterised by chunky New Balance sneakers, baseball caps, oversized tops, jean shorts and khakis, these once embarrassing fashion combinations are now being sported by models like Bella Hadid along cool New York City streets. But they’re definitely not the first to make it cool; Princess Diana’s street style frequently consisted of ‘Dad sneakers’ and neon cycling shorts. It’s easy and comfortable, perfect for a COVID-induced, stay-at-home lifestyle.
Ugliness is subjective. What it really translates to is what is not ‘in’ right now. Fashion trends usually act like a pendulum, constantly swinging back every decade or so. A geometrically patterned and offensively colourful ‘80s windbreaker would have faded out of style in the ‘90s, making way for the rise of grunge and simple slip dresses, like Gwyneth Paltrow walking the red carpet in a silvery silk Calvin Klein slip in 1996. And the pendulum swung right back up again as the noughties arrived. As for today? I saw that ‘80s windbreaker at a cultivated vintage store earlier today, priced at $80.
What’s old is new again, and trends will always come and go. So, raid your parents’ wardrobe, reach deep for something stuffed in a corner, smelling of mothballs, and looking like a style from decades past; the uglier the better.