Virgil Abloh’s debut Paris Fashion Week show as the newly appointed creative director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear was a multidimensional display of trailblazing design under the unmistakable patina of artistic excellence.
The collection’s theme ‘We are the World’ – a reference to the 1985 charity single in support of Ethiopian famine relief – is the materialisation of Virgil’s conscious design. Picking, choosing, and sampling parts of our collective culture adding his intellectual bent to it, running it by his magic formula of altering it by 3% and, as highly anticipated, the end product is something that is wholly new but equally pays homage to tradition.
The historically renowned Palais Royal welcomed a crowd of 1500 fashion students from all over the world seated side by side with another thousand of long-standing star-studded crowd of supporters, collaborators and friends. To the sounds of BADBADNOTGOOD, the rainbow-gradient carpet saw the likes of Playboi Carti, Steve Lacy, Kid Cudi, A$AP Nast and Londoner Blondey McCoy exhibiting monochromatic and colourful futuristic, neatly balanced designs that merge Virgil’s streetwear DNA, such as transparency and asymmetry, with Vuitton’s heritage luxury edge.
The show’s concept coupled LV’s longstanding story as luxury brand rooted in itinerant lifestyle and its creative director’s outlook on diversity and global interconnectivity. Each seated guest was handed a world diagram where every single one of his eclectic 56 model’s and their parent’s birthplace was marked, their varying creative backgrounds described, and a dictionary of terms written by Abloh himself to assist interpretation. A packed message, and a cheat code of sorts for you to decipher the meaning behind it – The raw data is all there, but lends itself to personal interpretation.
Virgil’s long-standing creative career is one of the very few that has continuously defied convention and norms of the present period. It is his precise diligence and impeccable work ethic that allowed him consistently surpass blockages put in his way, and his willingness to encourage people to look at the broader picture to understand the meaning behind his work that kept both the fashion elite and the global sneakerhead’s community equally excited for this moment.
Abloh’s debut success further blurs the lines between street and high-end couture cultures, as it shakes the foundations of a lot pre-established social and cultural biases of what someone should be or look like to occupy such a prestigious seat at the table. It’s larger than the man itself, and he knows that. Not only he is the first person of colour to lead Louis Vuitton’s menswear division, as he doesn’t have much formal fashion training. This is not to discredit Virgil’s merit in any way shape or form imaginary, quite the contrary. That has been hard earned. This show aimed to openly speak to a generation that has never been previously spoken to before, and by inviting students from all over the world, he sought to demonstrate there are alternatives to the one and only reality we are continuously forced to believe exists.
Fashion is aspirational – it isn’t a business that was ever meant to be egalitarian: It is an exclusive industry, based on aesthetics, so, by default, biases will always exist. But, if we really stop and think about it, we have drastically changed as a society over the past decade. As we are increasingly starting to think with a global outlook, should our parameters of perception of beauty and representation remain fixed?
I think that by default that is impossible. Consumer identity and demographics are changing. We’re distancing ourselves from the previous predominately white, middle-class clientele that could afford such luxuries. To keep up with the new millennial demand, brands soon realise that their creative direction will have to adapt too. Louis Vuitton isn’t the first one to join the race — Others include Balenciaga’s Creative Director Demna Gvasalia, Gucci’s Alessandro Michelle, and Dior’s newly appointed Kim Jones (whom Abloh is now replacing at LV).
essential to my show concept is a global view on diversity linked to the travel dna of the brand. the studio creates these show notes. we created this world diagram on the seats that shows models birthplace, and the birthplace of their parents. issue #1 also located on each seat. my dictionary of terms included as well.
Corporations are slowly arriving at the conclusion that cultural relevancy is the highest capital to have right now – and this is why – traditional, and heritage players are slowly opening their minds to new types of talent and representation.
Diversity and representation regardless of size, age, skin colour, ethnicity have always been one of fashion’s industry’s main problems. Don’t get me wrong; we have come a long way from the days of clone-like one-size fits all golden hair muses, and the ecosystem is indeed slowly changing.
Over the past five years, runways and fashion editorials have been opening doors to more people of colour, transgender and plus-size women and men and those who just don’t fit the industry’s classic definition of ‘beauty’, or ‘talent’. There are a whole different wormhole of relevant conversation topics are slowly coming light, but still very finite. Open displays of inclusivity, such as this show, are vital to maintaining an organic and authentic level of diversity within the industry and encouraging greater inclusivity behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera.
As a collective, that intention catches on. The more that people can feel that they can do it, the more people will do it, and I believe that there is a real movement here that shouldn’t be overlooked. Now, where do we go from here? Nobody really knows. Up until now – something of this magnitude only really existed in the realms of science fiction, but it is likely to instil debate.
The essential difference between the world we now know, and the world we dare to imagine lies in the level of limitations of which you have equipped yourself to perceive your life experience. If we all just repeated exactly what others said and done, nothing would ever be created, discussed or invented. How boring would that be? It’s interesting to see how a slight change of words (or titles in this case) can help others better understand your world, add to the overall cultural narrative, and make a connection that was previously missed.
Words by Catarina Ramalho