In the wake of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, in which two men detail alleged abuse by Michael Jackson over the course of four horrifying hours, many have wondered what to do with the late pop star’s music. What can so-called cancel culture do about an individual whose work has so deeply saturated popular music and culture? Exhibit A of Jackson’s ubiquity was Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2019 show, presented in Paris this January, filled with clothes as synonymous with Jackson as the moonwalk. The collection suggested that, even in 2019, Jackson transcended just music—Abloh called him “the most important person in innovating menswear ever.”
Earlier this week, he expressed a similar sentiment to the New Yorker, telling the magazine that he hadn’t seen Leaving Neverland, and that the collection is only meant to put a spotlight on “the Michael that I thought was universally accepted, the good side, his humanitarian self.” But today, after uproar surrounding Jackson and those who associated with him, representatives for Louis Vuitton told WWD that it would not produce any of the pieces that directly reference Michael Jackson. (When asked for comment, Louis Vuitton directed us to their official statement provided to WWD.)
“I am aware that in light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions,” Abloh told WWD of his most recent collection. “I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.” Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke added: “Child safety and welfare is of utmost importance to Louis Vuitton. We are fully committed to advocating this cause.”
Louis Vuitton says that the items being held back from stores are ones “that directly features Michael Jackson elements.” But parsing out which pieces that means is more difficult than it sounds. There are the obvious items, like the T-shirt with an image of a rhinestone-encrusted pair of shoes pointed toward the ground in the middle of one of Jackson’s famous dance moves. But shades of Jackson are apparent across the entire collection: Sparkling sequined jackets reference the over-the-top clothes Jackson performed in, and a red jacket isn’t so far off from the one pictured in the iconic “Thriller” video. And many others pieces that went down the runway seemed to take reference from Jackson’s daily wear.
During Jackson’s life, he was a larger-than-life figure who people wanted to dance, sing, and, as Abloh and Louis Vuitton showed, dress like. But after Leaving Neverland, people, radio stations, and companies have recalibrated how to deal with Jackson. Stations are playing his music less, suggesting it’s no longer possible to remove the artist from the man. Louis Vuitton, like any company with ties to Jackson has to deal with this dilemma: it’s impossible to aspire to be like one part of Jackson without bringing up the rest of his legacy.