The $5,000 dollar jacket that is the light at the end of the tunnel

The $5,000 dollar jacket that is the light at the end of the tunnel

On Virgil Abloh, the improbable benchmark for our return to post-coronavirus normalcy

[Note: Originally published on my Substack on April 16, 2020]

When will we know things are back to normal? Or at least on the road back to normal?

Some will look for signals straight from the top, and go with whatever President Trump says (though that message may change on a daily basis). Others will look at their state governors, or top health officials (👋 Dr. Fauci). Or maybe when it's just easy to go out and get a burrito or a Negroni without incident.

Me? I'm looking at Virgil Abloh.

You know, the polymathic architect/artist/DJ/fashion designer/Kanye's (former) right-hand man. The guy the New York Times wondered if he's the next Karl Lagerfeld for millennials?

So... why is Virgil Abloh the benchmark?

Abloh is the artistic director of men's wear at Louis Vuitton. Of course a position like that is going to be severely impacted by coronavirus. For example, the French fashion governing body(!) - Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode - cancelled the men's and couture fashion weeks originally scheduled in June and July (Vogue). Fashion shows and designers are leaning into virtual events (Vogue Business). Fashion, just like sports, air travel, and a million other industries, is at a stand-still.

But what about consumers? You know, the people who walk into a Louis Vuitton store and buy a $5,400 letterman jacket?

Turns out, high-end fashion is may be a leading indicator of getting back to normal

Lucky for us, LVMH, the parent company of Louis Vuitton, reported earnings this week, giving us a glimpse into the world of luxury retail amid the global coronavirus pandemic.+

The company said that 90% of its stores in China are open, and traffic is booming, up 20% in the first week of April over the last week in March. The company also said that sales in China were up over 50% in April compared to March.

While it is seemingly absurd to extrapolate sales of $2,070 flower print shorts to the broader consuming public, that's a really positive sign for consumer behavior. In China, as soon as the doors are (somewhat) reopened, the pent-up demand for luxury goods has come spilling out of the gates.

And back in August 2011, NYT reported that luxury retail sales were accelerating while many other Americans were pulling back on spending.++

As it were, August 2011 was also the post-financial crisis low for Consumer Sentiment. After that late summer month way back in 2011, consumer confidence basically improved unimpeded until the coronavirus pandemic.

So if you want a glimmer of optimism, go watch some live-streamed runway shows on YouTube. And when Louis Vuitton puts stuff back in the windows on Michigan Avenue, or when they open up a new brightly-colored pop up, you'll know we’re on our way to some kind of normalcy.

And before you know it, we'll see Abloh on the runway in Milan waving to a crowded room after debuting his new collection of $6,800 bee keeper blousons.

But until then, I’ll be enjoying his Instagram Live DJ sets from his Lincoln Park basement.

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“Watercolor” Jazz Hours. tracklist below, volume 2. 01. Floating Points - Birth ⁣ 02. Eric Dolphy - God Bless The Child ⁣ 03. Erykah Badu - Green Eyes⁣ 04. Arthur Verocai - Sylvia ⁣ 05. John Coltrane - Ogunde ⁣ 06. Beastie Boys - Sabrosa ⁣ 07. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - The Wind Cries Mary ⁣ 08. David Axelrod - The Human Abstract ⁣ 09. Lauryn Hill - Adam Lives In Theory ⁣ 10. Matty - Clear ⁣ 11. Grover Washington Jr - Black Frost ⁣ 12. GZA - Liquid Swords ⁣ 13. The Roots - Lazy Afternoon ⁣ 14. Originoo Gunn Clappaz - No Fear ⁣ 15. Jeru the Damaja - Come Clean (E New Y Radio) ⁣ 16. Originoo Gunn Clappaz - Da Storm ⁣ 17. Klashnekoff - Murda ⁣ 18. Jehst - High Plains Anthem ⁣ 19. Disable Planets - Nickel Bags ⁣ 20. Kid Cudi - Solo Dolo (Nightmare) ⁣ 21. John Carrol Kirby - Blueberry Beads⁣ 22. Omar S - Ah'revolution (feat. Amp Fiddler) ⁣ 23. KH - Only Human ⁣ 24. Floating Points - Nuits Sonores ⁣ 25. Peven Everett - Gabriel (Live Garage Mix) ⁣ 26. Salome De Bahia - Outro Lugar (Clavis Remix) ⁣ 27. Thom Yorke - Last I Heard ⁣ 28. Headie One - Music x Road ⁣ 29. Young Nudy - Blue Cheese Salad ⁣ 30. SmuggzyAce - Real Drillas (feat. Latts)⁣ 31. Smiley_61st - Do That For ⁣ 32. Jay Electronica - Eternal Sunshine (the Pledge) ⁣ 33. Gil Scott-Heron & Makaya McCraven - The Patch (Broken Home, Pt. 2) ⁣ 34. Haki R. Madhubuti & Nation_ Afrikan Liberation Arts Ensemble - We Are A Nation ⁣35. King Krule - Neptune Estate ⁣ 36. Miles Davis - Générique (BOF Ascenseur pour l’échafaud)⁣ 37. Toshio Matsuura Group - I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun ⁣ 38. Fela Kuti - Zombie ⁣ 39. Pink Floyd - On The Run (2011 Remastered) ⁣ 40. Aphex Twin - tha2 ⁣ 41. Ray Keith - Terrorist ⁣ 42. Baby Keem - MOSHPIT ⁣ 43. Playboi Carti - Whole Lotta (Neon) (Version 2) ⁣ 44. King Von - 2 AM ⁣ 45. Arthur Verocai - Caboclo

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+ There were also some excellent reports on the future of luxury retail this week from:

McKinsey - A perspective for the luxury-goods industry during—and after—coronavirus

Bain - Luxury after Covid-19: Changed for (the) Good?

++ Again, this goes directly back to questions around inequality, which is a topic (or a book) all on its own.

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