“I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t just going to be a consumer; that at least one of us [African Americans] would appear at the end of a Parisian runway,” Virgil Abloh told British Vogue in March 2018 when his official appointment to the venerable house of Louis Vuitton was announced.
This Thursday in Paris, Abloh brought the newest of the new to a global audience composed of hard-core fans of his “king of cool” street cred, which he earned as a collaborator with Kanye West and as the designer of his own label, Off-White.
Staged on a rainbow-hued runway spanning the length of the lawn, from the gilded gates to the limestone castle walls of the gardens of Palais Royal (once the playground of Louis the 16th and Marie Antoinette), and just steps away from where the Carters shot the “Apeshit” video, the show was broadcast live via the new Instagram TV app.
Abloh told British Vogue that the inspiration for the show came to him on a long-haul flight:
I came up with this idea about white, but then, scientifically, the idea of white light hitting a prism, and then refracting into colour. I mean, that’s me—I’m Off-White! That’s my raisonne, why I’m here, but now I have the impact of the house. But it’s deeper than that. It’s race, it’s models, it’s the political ecosystem. And practically, it’s fabric, fit. Can I cut a suit?
Suits don’t seem to be what Abloh’s audience is looking for—“Men buy sneakers the way women buy handbags,” both of which Abloh served up in candy-colored vests, neon bright accessories and classic LV logo bags in transparent rainbow hues. Vuitton’s runway was populated by one of the most diverse casts of models—if not the most diverse—in recent memory.
Travel is the essence of Vuitton’s brand since its inception as luggage-makers in 1854, and Abloh played to this theme by listing in the program the runway models’ names, where they were born and where they had traveled from to participate in the show.
It was a brilliant move reflecting both the heritage of the house and our current obsession with genetic testing sites like 23andMe or Ancestry.com (which are fast becoming the new social networks) and the strong push for inclusivity in fashion. Origins and individual identity are more important than ever with everyone from baby boomers to Generation Z.
Identifying with a fashion tribe like Off-White or Vuitton is a way to telegraph to the world that no matter where you come from, you’ve arrived. And Abloh’s message seems to be very American: No matter where you come from (he has no formal fashion design training), if you work hard and have a dream, one day you could become king.
Today he’s the king of cool. Tomorrow, will he be king of fashion?