At Paris’ Jardin des Tuileries in mid-January, models at Virgil Abloh’s fall ’19 menswear show for Louis Vuitton strutted down a runway set against a backdrop reminiscent of the iconic “Billie Jean” music video.
They were dressed in all the trappings of a Michael Jackson-inspired collection, from a T-shirt boasting a graphic of the entertainer’s freeze-framed tiptoes to the black leather loafers, matching gloves and military-style coats.
The line was hailed as a success by industry leaders and critics — but the timing and context couldn’t have been more unfortunate. A week after the show, the two-part documentary “Leaving Neverland” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where viewers watched as Wade Robson and James Safechuck alleged horrific sexual abuse at the hands of the late King of Pop himself.
For Abloh, who also founded cult-favorite streetwear label Off-White, the pop culture moment was somewhat of a reckoning. In fact, the debut collection for Louis Vuitton served as a tribute of sorts to the artist, dubbed “We Are the World” — the 1985 charity single written and performed in part by Jackson. Moreover, Abloh’s sophomore release took notes from “The Wiz,” a reimagined version of “The Wizard of Oz,” in which Jackson played the Scarecrow.
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In an interview with the New Yorker (to be released in print on March 18), Abloh denied having heard about the controversial documentary, saying that he sought to spotlight “the Michael that I thought was universally accepted, the good side, his humanitarian self.”
Abloh has also spoken freely about the singer-songwriter’s impact on fashion, let alone his own designs. “When I have Michael Jackson singing in the background, it’s a different type of shirt, it’s a different kind of boot, it’s a different fit of pants,” he told the publication, explaining his creative process.
As radio stations cut Jackson’s songs from airplay and television shows pull episodes that feature his likeness, Louis Vuitton has also made the decision to strip its latest collection of its ostensible references to the superstar — which could have had repercussions for its $33.6 billion business and storied reputation as one of luxury conglomerate LVMH’s powerhouse brands.
In a statement sent to FN’s sister publication WWD, the brand shared that it would not be producing any merchandise that “directly features Michael Jackson elements,” but the collection — which does not include any imagery of Jackson himself — will eventually hit stores.
The mounting controversy surrounding “Leaving Neverland” has also led the French fashion house and its menswear head to denounce the alleged abuse. “I am aware that in light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions,” Abloh told WWD. “I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.”
Additionally, chairman and CEO Michael Burke said, “We find the allegations in the documentary deeply troubling and disturbing. Child safety and welfare is of utmost importance to Louis Vuitton. We are fully committed to advocating this cause.”
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