Virgil Abloh, the postmodern P.T. Barnum of fashion who has turned his distinct point of view into a budding fashion empire, debuted his latest collaboration with Jimmy Choo Tuesday night. Abloh, a protégé of Kanye West’s and a Grammy nominee for his work on Watch the Throne, was propelled to the forefront of fashion via association with the Kardashian family by grace of the king-making power of their social media influence—influence that has also served designers like Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, who, like Abloh, is on the rise as one of the new rulers of fashion.
What Abloh has is a keen understanding of consumer desire—a yearning to be savvy enough to incorporate high-art motifs into closet staples like boots and T-shirts, along with a craving for street cred. His Off-White label provides both, producing $1,700 satin pussy-bow blouses with ties that dust the floor, and white plastic boots with the words “For Walking” or “Off-White” in black safety-sign lettering up the side. Even the label’s logo-decaled smartphone cases retail for a cool $95 and seem to be in the palms of private school kids from coast to coast.
Alboh’s style is entertaining and fun, but his offerings have that kind of art-world brevity about them where, even if the high-ticket items are a joke on the buyer, it’s better to be in on the joke than not to get it at all. It’s exactly this kind of savvy marketing that has won the designer collaborations with brands as diverse as Ikea and famed artists like Takashi Murakami, while Off-White is a favorite among top models, luxury-fashion editors, the hip-hop crowd and those who want to feel hip by association.
Abloh’s newest collaborative collection, Off-White ℅ Jimmy Choo, brings together all the elements of his fascinations: art, fashion, and ’80s and ’90s iconic cool. On its website, Jimmy Choo posted that the collection was inspired by the late Princess Diana, an interesting muse, given that we are all waiting with bated breath to see how Meghan Markle will leave her stamp on royal style.
It’s also a deft move on Abloh’s part; last November he was the first black designer to receive a British Fashion Council Award for Urban Luxe Brand. Princess Di and urban streetwear could not be farther part—although the princess was known to put on a leotard and tights for roller-skating around the halls of Buckingham Palace.
Why this move toward regal attire and ladylike fare is so cunning on Abloh’s part is that, in true P.T. Barnum style, it’s a three-ring-circus. Just when you thought it was just sneakers and cellphone covers, here comes something entirely new to capture your imagination.
The party to fete his Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear collection and Off-White ℅ Jimmy Choo, both of which will be in stores this week, drew an A-list crowd of models like Bella and Gigi Hadid, Kaia Gerber, Kendall Jenner and Naomi Campbell, decked out in the Princess Di-inspired collection along with the shoes. The clothes were sophisticated and subdued for the most part—garden party chintz, sharply cut suits with walking shorts and cropped jackets with lapels that jutted forward like the bow of the royal yacht—while stilettos were covered in clear PVC cocoons or ruched with tulle. Tulle, that most feminine and genteel of fabrics, was also applied to thigh-high boots, casting a kind of fairy-tale softness to the look.
Of the unlikely brand matchup, Abloh told Women’s Wear Daily:
It was an idea I had. I’d met Sandra [Choi] at the Bowery hotel, and I always had this idea within my collection to sort of get more specific and story-tell ... I was working on this collection that was a tribute to Princess Diana and [Jimmy Choo] were a shoemaker that were making shoes for her. And I thought it could have been a cool way to relate the product and the narrative of Princess Diana to a younger audience.
I think that no matter what Abloh does, he’s got a firm creative hold on the zeitgeist and will surely remain part of the greatest show on earth.