Millionaires to Zillionaires

The shady legacy of NIGO's Louis Vuitton eyewear.

Today the timeline got a sneak peek at the next iteration of Virgil Abloh and NIGO’s Louis Vuitton collaborative collection, LV². Put two of street culture’s greatest curators in a room, and apparently what you get isn’t just the best of both worlds, but an entire metaverse unto itself.

The inaugural LV² collection was a posse cut of NIGO and Abloh’s favorite things, revisiting motifs like workwear and bringing in other collaborators like Verdy, the next-gen NIGO protegé whose Girls Don’t Cry and Wasted Youth labels have developed a cult following of their own. He was tapped to redesign the Louis Vuitton logo in his signature retro typeface, giving the monogram a ‘70s-rock inspired attitude.

NIGO also put a lot of himself into the designs, infusing his love of vintage workwear and subcultural British tailoring into the mix, with Human Made-esque accessories like luxury decoy ducks finding their way into the mix, as well as the term “LV MADE” on gear that ranged from leather backpacks to cropped hooded snorkel jackets.

But curiously, one thing NIGO didn’t revisit that first time around were the iconic Millionaire sunglasses. Instead, he opted to include a sleek pair of shades known as the Lock sunglasses, flipping the recognizable metal hinge on the side of the Millionaires into a lock-shaped detail.

Were they wearable? Sure, but nowhere near as memorable or significant as that first pair from the mid-2000s.

The OG Millionaires made their debut in 2004, a three-way collaborative effort between Pharrell, NIGO, and then-Louis Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs. The $1,200 frames were inspired by the Carrera 1001/S aviators, with the distinct racing stripes at the top replaced with golden embellishments. Pharrell once described their appeal as “one part Tony Montana, one part Notorious B.I.G.”

“At the time when it came out, it was very hard to get. There was no question about it,” says Vintage Frames founder Corey Shapiro in a Complex article by Mike DeStefano. “When they came to fruition, if you were in hip-hop and you didn't have one, you were not doing it. You were not being considered one of the fashion forward icons of that generation.”

By 2007, LV re-released the frames in colorways like black, purple, and bright red. Everyone from Rihanna to Jay-Z, and a young Virgil Abloh certainly lusted after a pair. Kanye West even ended up getting a pair from a surprising source: A gift from his late mother, Dr. Donda West.

Dr. West recounts the experience of trying to track down a pair of the coveted shades in her 2007 book: Raising Kanye: Life Lessons from the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar. It was Christmas 2005, and she found herself wondering what to get for the man who has everything. Not that Kanye West put the pressure on her —he was already at a point in his career where he could buy most of the things he wanted.

She mulls over getting him a Best Buy gift card (she says that as a music and movie junkie, he would’ve used it), but gives credit to Don C. for putting her onto the frames.

“I was standing in the Louis Vuitton store waiting on my purchase when Don told me that Kanye had been talking about the Millionaire sunglasses that Louis made. Hardly anyone had them yet,” she wrote.

Thanks to the help of a sales associate named Donna, she had a pair flown in from France.

“I surprised Kanye that year with those glasses,” continued Dr. West. “I almost broke the bank to do it, but his reaction when I handed him those Millionaire glasses was worth it.”

Given their importance in hip-hop culture and beyond, it’s no surprise that one of the first things Virgil Abloh did when he began his tenure as Louis Vuitton’s artistic director was revisit the Millionaire silhouette. His square-rimmed version turned up the gold embellishment and is called the 1.1 Millionaires.

Even though it’s a perennial item for Vuitton now, season-exclusive colorways like clear acetate or marble acetate sell out just as quickly. They range in price from $855-$1,040 on, and if you’re lucky, they just might have the exact frame you’re looking for.

Fast forward to 2021, and now it looks like Abloh and NIGO are finally ready to not just revisit the frames they made even more famous, but reinvent them. Making their debut in the upcoming LV² Spring 2022 collection, the new style looks to build on the lock-shaped hinge from NIGO’s previous Lock silhouette, but adds a subtler gold embellishment at the top and angular rims that look like something an Animal Crossing character would rock. But that actually makes them look even more fire.

Of course, the next step in NIGO and Virgil Abloh’s LV legacy should represent some type of progression right? Which is why Abloh captioned his recent IG post with this gem: “when i asked him what we should name these next pair of sunglasses we did he sent a 1 word reply.... ‘ZILLIONAIRES.’”

Hopefully it won’t cost a zillion dollars just to cop a pair of frames that look like a million bucks.