Virgil Abloh’s Final Ode to Louis Vuitton and Nike Inspires a New Exhibition of Sneakers by the Late Designer in Brooklyn

47 styles of the iconic Air Force 1 sneaker are showcased in a Greenpoint, Brooklyn warehouse—all of them designed by Abloh.

Trophy shoes: Gold damier Air Force 1s. Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

It would be an overstatement to say that the “Louis Vuitton and Nike ‘Air Force 1’ by Virgil Abloh” exhibition is the polymath designer’s swan song. But it is more than just another brand collaboration, and more personal than it seems at first glance.

The exhibition opens tomorrow in a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, warehouse, showcasing a range of Abloh’s designs for the iconic Air Force 1, which was first introduced by Nike in 1982. Over the past 40 years, the sneaker has been woven into pop culture and particularly perennial in hip hop. It was also Abloh’s go-to shoe.

At today’s preview, hushed attendees perused the footwear as waiters passed out champagne and mini pains au chocolat. Staffers spoke about prepping for the opening party later tonight. Besides being the men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Abloh was also a DJ. A blowout in his honor is apropos.

The Brooklyn warehouse turned Abloh x Louis Vuitton x Nike exhibition space. Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

The Brooklyn warehouse turned Abloh x Louis Vuitton x Nike exhibition space. Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

The building has been painted orange like a Nike shoebox. Next to the door, a gargantuan statue is doing a handstand—a towering tangerine B-boy Colossus of Rhodes in mid-breakdance. It is one of several such statues and sculptures dispersed throughout the city.

The exhibit blends fashion, art, dance-music culture, and design—basically what Abloh spent his career doing. But can the show also speak to a casual passerby who isn’t an Abloh devotee or sneakerhead?

A childhood reminiscence melded with adult dreamscape, the space is a vast cavern. Part gallery, part industrial hangar, part nightclub, part shoe emporium, the walls are painted with the cloud motif Abloh frequently wielded for Louis Vuitton. A treehouse-like DJ booth overlooks the surreal kingdom.

Air Force 1s are everywhere—behind glass cases and mostly affixed to the walls in various configurations with dangling laces, perplexingly accompanied by holograms for a 3D gander of the directly adjacent shoe.

Of the 47 pairs in the show, nine will be for sale starting next month (2,500 euros for mid top, 2,000 euros for low top). They were originally designed for use in Louis Vuitton’s spring 2022 menswear show. A release states that they were made “in the Maison’s Manufacture in Fiesso d’Artico, Venice, Italy,” and that “each design fuses the sneaker’s original codes with the Maison’s finest leather, materials, and insignia of Louis Vuitton, and the distinctive visual grammar of Virgil Abloh.”

Some of Abloh’s aphorisms, like “What is myth and what is reality?”, and “Who did it first? Where did they get the idea? Is it new?” are inscribed on the walls. The latter was certainly a line of questioning he was also often asked to respond to.

A museum meets nightclub meets shoe emporium in Brooklyn. Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

A museum meets nightclub meets shoe emporium in Brooklyn. Courtesy of Louis Vuitton.

Of course, it’s impossible not to overanalyze Abloh’s subsequently-released work since his passing last year. “Designer” is a very limited title for him; “creative director” was a more fitting sobriquet.

Abloh’s art wasn’t just the clothes that went down the runway—it was how he concepted the whole experience. His shows and his storytelling encompassed a holistic view of fashion.

By centering people of color, his casting rewrote the luxury brand rule book, as did his emphasis on grandiose and immersive set design. He was indeed a showman, but his ego never got in the way of what he was presenting. Abloh was the star of the show, but also the man behind the curtain.

It made sense that he riffed on The Wizard of Oz in his Louis Vuitton debut for fall 2018. On sweaters and other garments from the collection, Dorothy and her posse were depicted skipping down the yellow brick road. Abloh himself exhibited each of their virtues: bravery, intelligence, heart, and finding your way against all odds.

It will be hard to follow in his footsteps—especially when the shoes are on the wall.

“Louis Vuitton and Nike ‘Air Force 1’ by Virgil Abloh” runs May 21–31 at the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse at 73 West Street in Brooklyn. It is free to attend and open daily from 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

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