Virgil Abloh died suddenly and tragically at the end last year. Tributes have been paid to his creative legacy. fashion’s most singular voices has been paid by way of two deeply moving Louis Vuitton shows. The first took place in Miami, just two days after the announcement of his death, with the second hosted in Paris during the city’s men’s fashion week in January – and it was in them that Virgil’s final collections for the Parisian maison were shown. Last night in Paris, it was the turn of Off-White – the house that Virgil built from the ground up – to present the final collection he designed.
You might have expected that a shadow of solemnity would have hung over the event, given the significance and nature of the occasion. Sure, there was a distinct seriousness to the attendees – a distinct sense of purpose to their attendance – the two collections that were presented around a giant chandelier installed at the heart of the Palais Brogniart were imbued with a sense of forward-looking celebration. They nodded to Virgil’s unspeakably powerful contribution to fashionHistory, and he looked forward with the same wide-eyed wonder that coloured the present.
Even before you arrive at the showSpace, that optimism was strongly felt in the invitation for the show – titled “Spaceship Earth” – a blue time-capsule-cum-safe that came with instructions not to be opened until 3030, in which a metal space-shuttle ticket could be found. Rather than to a far-off planet, however, the voyage it invited us on was to Earth itself – an invitation to explore the foundational grammar of Virgil’s designLanguage, and the futures that can be built from it.
Both Off-White’s AW22 womenswear collection – “Seeing Red” – and AW22 menswear collection – “Foreign Exchange” – were anchored in Virgil’s zeal for sartorial détournement, tweaking and displacing familiar signifiers to reimagine them anew. Baseball caps were puffed up into glittering riding caps, taking up space at the unexpected overlap of the country club and the street corner; relaxed tailoring in midnight hues sat next to slinky, bias-cut cocktail slips and a printed bodycon mesh ensemble sported by a resplendent Serena Williams; overdyed mustard cropped shearling flight jackets and tactical vests bespoke both hardy utility and flamboyance, as did field backpacks in shaggy yellow faux furs and chunky bouclé knits.
As a prefacing monologue by Pharrell implied – “Share the codes,”His voice boomed. “the more of us that learn the codes, the stronger we are.” – this was a body of work that revelled in the strategic melee of register – or code switching as it’s known in linguistic terms, “a method used by people to endear them to social groups other than their own”. Easy-wearing, casual silhouettes were given tailored backbone in formal wool plaids and bright wool tweeds, and the layman’s practicality of cargo pants took on a peacockery timbre in buttery leather.
This ethos was a most prominent in the surprise 28-look collection, which closed out the event. show: “> Than a Bride”, Virgil’s posthumous haute couture debut. A product of Virgil’s self-proclaimed love and admiration for fashion’s highest art form, this was the designer’s designThe zenith in ideology. “In what I think of as Off-White, it’s native to wear jeans and a heel. It’s native to wear sneakers and a skirt,”Request a quote at the designerRead it starting in 2019. “I’m not interested in doing hoodies and T-shirts. It’s not compelling. What is compelling is the beauty of couture: the beauty of volume and fabric.”
That there was in abundance, with a parade of rapturous gowns and exquisite tailoring fit for contemporary goddesses – and worn by the superest of models who are as close to that as us mere mortals can get. New-gen supers like Bella Hadid, Adut Akech and Kaia Gerber respectively took to the runway in a sweetheart-line bridal gown styled with a baseball cap and veil, a jewel-encrusted bodice that puffed out into cascades of finely pleated silk mousseline, and a giant silk moiré peplum cocktail dress – styled with a canary yellow t-shirt printed with the word ‘POP”. What really sent audience members’ jaws dropping, however, was the appearance of the latter’s mother, Cindy Crawford, in a patchwork t-shirt and layered chiffon skirt; Naomi Campbell in inky crushed velvet trousers, a bonnet hat and a smoking jacket-tailcoat hybrid; Amber Valletta in a sequin-spangled spaghetti strap halter gown; and, to close, Debra Shaw in a hulking pyramidal skirt compose of meringue clumps of chiffon.
The ensemble of their appearances, as well as the clothes themselves, spoke to the kernel of Virgil Abloh’s genius – to the essence of how he recalibrated how we all understand both the craft of dressmaking, and fashionAs a cultural artifact. By retextualizing and drawing upon fashion’s history – seeing it as a cabinet of readymades ripe for redeployment – he unlocked an inexhaustible repertoire of newness. That is what has secured – and will fuel – Off-White’s future for years to come.
All images courtesy Off-White