As the Off-White designer makes his debut as Louis Vuitton’s Artistic Director of Men’s Collections, we break down his vision for the French luxury house
- TextTed Stansfield
Sometimes things boil down to a moment. Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton’s newly-installed Artistic Director of Men’s Collections, hugging Kanye West at the close of his first show at Paris Fashion Week yesterday, was one such moment. As the pair embraced, visibly emotional, the significance of the show – and of Abloh’s appointment at the house – was not lost. A black man was at the head of one of fashion’s most prestigious houses and he had just toppled the ivory tower it represented. “You can do it too,” he wrote on his Instagram shortly after the show, which had shattered an especially visible glass ceiling and paved the way for others like him to do the same. It was an important and significant moment – one editor went as far as to describe it as fashion’s equivalent to the inauguration of Barack Obama. Here, in the wake of the show, we break down the four things you need to know about the new era of Louis Vuitton.
Louis Vuitton S/S19
The whole show was a democratising affair. Instead of inviting just celebrities, press and buyers, as is tradition, Abloh decided to open up his show to students – around a thousand of them, who lined the runway in the sweltering heat of the Parisian summer solstice sun. And then there was the casting which, but for a few token white models, comprised almost entirely men of colour. As Louis Vuitton’s first African American Artistic Director and one of the few men of colour in such a position within the industry, the message was clear: fashion should be for everyone. Through his casting, he shook up the status quo, welcoming – and indeed, centring – a people group that has for too long been forgotten or sidelined by this industry. This group includes Abloh, too – as he and Kanye embraced, they shed tears – after a long fight for the industry’s acceptance, the battle appeared to have been won.
It’s for a younger generation
Joining the models on the catwalk were several interesting figures: musicians including Dev Hynes, Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti, the Internet’s Steve Lacy, along with skaters Blondey McCoy and Lucien Clarke. Abloh understands what is aspirational and that’s exactly what these men are to the new generation of menswear consumers. They are style leaders in fashion’s brave new world; a world where Kanye is god, Abloh himself is high priest and collection drops are church. It’s this world that Abloh is communicating with – and no one speaks its language like him.
Abloh is self-aware about this moment and how he got here
Critics of Abloh may say that he is in this position because of his fandom or his following, and these are two things that the Artistic Director seemed to confront in the press release – or as he titled it, ‘The vocabulary according to Virgil Abloh’. “Fandom,” he writes, “A two-way worship between a designer and his clientele, fashion fandom mimics the codependent relationship between performer and supporter, a connection native to music and sports scenes.” Not something to be derided. “Exposure. An apparatus recognised by designers in the social media age of fashion. Can lead to Artistic Director positions at Louis Vuitton.” Like we say, self-aware. But it’s when he got to irony that this ‘vocabulary’ became really quite brilliant. “Irony. The philosophy of a new generation. The presence of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton.”
It’s a new kind of luxury
Abloh has been revolutionising luxury for a few years through his own label by reissuing streetwear basics as high-end goods. For him, something is luxurious if it is coveted and that’s been the success of Off-White and his Nike collaborations – creating things people covet and queue round the block for. Yesterday’s show reflected this principle once more and to refer to his vocabulary, “Luxury. A label determined by values, codes and qualities, its use and definition were the privilege of few until a new generation conquered its dominion and shifted the paradigm for good.” So, instead of the typically signifiers of luxury menswear – such as expensively-cut suits, fine leather goods et cetera – Abloh presented a different take on tailoring, one that had a younger generation of men in mind. This tailoring represented a cohesive and wearable amalgamation of relaxed suiting and streetwear rendered mostly in block colours of white, red and yellow. Accessories, meanwhile, included Abloh’s instantly news-making translucent holdall, among other young, novel takes on LV luggage - more translucent numbers, all-white ones, bags that strap to the thigh, and bags trailing plastic chains. Needless to say, these pieces will sell like hotcakes.