The biggest talking point of the Spring 2019 men’s edition of Paris Fashion Week has been Virgil Abloh. The week began on Monday evening and ends on the forthcoming Sunday but Abloh has already claimed victory. He presented two shows this Paris Fashion Week. He displayed the latest propositions for his label Off-White, the luxury streetwear brand with exponential growth, and he debuted at Louis Vuitton men’s, one of the biggest luxury brands in the world.
The Off-White show on Tuesday morning felt like the preamble to the main event—his Louis Vuitton debut. There weren’t many surprises to be found. It was Off-White by the book. The clothes are destined to appeal to the legions of millennials who sleeplessly devote themselves to every whim and project Abloh undertakes, from the printed hoodies and quotation-mark-bracketed words to collaborations with Nike and IKEA. This season, one of his influences was graffiti artist DONDI (born Donald Joseph White) whose graffiti tag typography was utilised and emblazoned on garments. He spoke about taking a subculture and placing it in the spotlight, which is arguably the trajectory of his career.
He is clever in the way he approaches the synergy between pop culture and streetwear. Bart Simpson from The Simpsons appeared printed on sweaters and t-shirts. Without a doubt, they are fated for countless of Instagram posts. Arguably, in its current guise streetwear could be perceived as a cornerstone to pop culture. His denim tracksuits, light-wash 70s-inspired bootleg jeans, tie-dye fabrics and camouflage twinsets, were renditions of the familiar tropes that underscore contemporary street fashion.
I noticed it was tinctured with the work of London designers Bobby Abley and Christopher Shannon but that’s unsurprising. Demna Gvasalia’s imprint and a soupçon of Glenn Martens’ Y/Project were tossed into the mix too, and those two designers are indebted to Martin Margiela—fashion’s form of cannibalism. But originality isn’t as important to Abloh’s work as accessibility, and of course, saleability are.
It’s why he’s probably a perfect fit for Louis Vuitton. Like Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, Abloh’s curatorial eye lends itself to artistic direction of a luxury brand like Vuitton. His appointment there signified many things. The changing of the guard in the design word: no longer do artistic directors have to be formally trained as fashion designers or pattern cutters, rather they have to possess an artistic vision that can drive sales. It also suggested the dominance of streetwear in menswear and the changing face of luxury—what is luxury fashion nowadays? For Abloh, it can be as extravagant as mink jacket or as simple as a well-made white t-shirt (albeit forensically-executed by the expert in-house tailors).
His show began with almost twenty white looks. They were centred on the fusion between suiting and streetwear, honouring the house’s codes while also contributing something new, attracting a younger customer. It was a palette cleanser, so to speak. However, his predecessor Kim Jones produced a far slicker output, it elevated streetwear to luxury terrain and the styling was much more polished. Comparatively, Abloh’s pooling silhouettes and overwrought emphasis on utilitarian style falls flat.
He rehashed some of the ideas that appeared in the Off-White show too. There was tie-dye print and it looked much better here. Though the double-denim looks that emerged fared better at Off-White; they didn’t blend with the house’s codes as much. But this crossover event cemented one thing: a faultlessly clear expression of his lucid vision, even if it is a vision in part indebted to other creatives.
When the models took to their final procession, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, who were sitting front row, led a standing ovation. When Abloh emerged he made his way over to West, his frequent collaborator, sharing a tender embrace, both men wiping tears from their eyes.
And perhaps that is the best thing about Abloh’s success. It affirms something about the fashion industry: anything is possible with hard work. He is one of the only black designers showing in Paris and one of the only black artistic directors at a luxury conglomerate. (Kanye West made similar waves in fashion with Yeezy—say what you want about the aesthetic and the logistical disasters—when he became one of the most influential people of colour in the industry.) Milestones like this are undreamt of in an industry that is predominately white and perpetuates questionable attitudes towards diversity and inclusivity. On the benches at Louis Vuitton, a dossier was equipped with a map dotted with the birthplaces of his models and their parents; it was one of the diversely cast fashion shows in recent memory.
The invitation to the Off-White show read “Jim Stark”, James Dean’s character from Rebel Without a Cause. The film chronicles the lives of suburban, middle-class teenagers. It’s the background Abloh comes from. From Rockford, Illinois to Rue du Pont Neuf, Paris. It’s also the demographic Off-White, and the myriad of collaborations Abloh participates in, connects with the most. He invited hundreds of young design students from local colleges to attend the show. To that contingent, Off-White is peak-fashion, the pinnacle of streetwear and Abloh its perennial leader. But mostly it possess a quality innate to luxury, it’s aspirational.