It takes two, Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock famously explained, to make things go right and outta sight. “It takes two” is a fitting mantra for the sneaker industry, too, as brands have dosey-doed into collaborative nirvana. More specifically, the 1988 hit song is also the source code for the latest batch of sneakers from Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh: 21 pairs of Air Force 1s made in partnership between Nike and the French house (now that’s two making it outta sight). Last week, during the Louis Vuitton men’s spring-summer 2022 runway show, Abloh debuted almost two dozen of the Swooshed and LV monogrammed sneakers in green, white, metallic blue, lemon yellow, red, and even Vuitton’s iconic “Damier” check that probably have StockX building out additional servers in preparation.
The shoes are a very long time coming, and a full-circle moment for culture and Abloh, according to notes provided along with the show. Abloh provides a new list of concepts and definitions every season, laid out the same way your biology textbook defined protons and xylem. This season, the Air Force 1 is defined as “one of the most successful shoes ever created,” according to the notes. But Abloh is particularly interested in the version of the Air Force 1 that appears on the cover art for Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s single—the one that was customized so that the Nike Swoosh was covered with the Louis Vuitton monogram. “The cover embodied the hip-hop community’s early practice of hacking together high fashion and sportswear, side-lining diverging brands with equal reverence.” Now, Abloh is making that 1988 bootleg official. (There are a few classic Abloh touches on the Air Vuitton 1s: where Abloh typically prints “LACES” on…the laces, here they have the French translation: “LACET.”)
The partnership between Abloh and Nike has been incredibly fruitful since it first kicked off in 2017. Abloh has made a habit out of taking large bites out of the apple: his first collaboration featured his take on 10 different iconic Nike models, and more recently, Abloh announced that he’s customized 50 Nike Dunks. Over that time, the relationship between sneakers and high fashion have started to change drastically: one of the most coveted shoes of 2020 (and the only one to show up at Joe Biden’s inauguration) was Dior’s Air Jordan 1, which carries a resale price tag of $8,000.
Abloh’s Louis Vuitton-Nike tie-up fits this trajectory. While Abloh’s past collaborations with Nike have focused mostly on making high-fashion design accessible through $250-or-less sneakers, this collaboration is about making the sneaker a super-luxe item. Another show note—the one defining Abloh’s new sporty take on the suit—provides useful context. By splicing together a suit and a tracksuit, he’s challenging the perceptions of what’s “formal” and what’s “street”: “Is a man in tailoring trustworthy? Is a man in ‘streetwear’ less trustworthy?” the notes read. Abloh writes that he wants to remix these enough that both lose their traditional symbolism. Is a sneaker “formal” or is it “street”?
This philosophy applies to Abloh’s sneakers, too—and, really, to his entire career. Since the beginning of his partnership with Nike, he’s been pushing the idea of what a sneaker can be—and now, he can broker a partnership between a (his!) historic French leather goods maison and an Oregon-based sportswear company, and the only question people have is: when and where can I buy it? Louis Vuitton’s answer: “Stay tuned for more details.”