Pin It
Louis Vuitton virgil abloh ss19 menswear significance
Photography Arnaud Lafeuillade

Virgil’s Vuitton debut felt like seeing fashion change

The designer put forward a progressive, diverse vision of the future of the brand

Virgil Abloh didn’t fail. You could tell that some people wanted him to, that they were hoping his debut collection as artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear would be a bust. That wasn’t what happened, though – his first show was good. The atmosphere, as the sun beat down onto the rainbow runway, was incredible. The collection had a message which tied the house’s travel history with the present. The show had one of the best, most authentically diverse menswear castings I’ve ever seen on a runway – with maps on every seat detailing the birthplace of each model and of their parents. And, despite the predictions of the naysayers, it was not just a line of printed t-shirts – Abloh presented a refined collection of luxurious yet modern menswear.

Not that there weren’t any t-shirts – as well as those provided as mementos for each of the guests, about a thousand of them were to be found on the backs of students, most looking to be in their late teens, who stood either side of the single row runway to watch the show. Their excitement was palpable – can you imagine being invited to a Louis Vuitton show, let alone this Louis Vuitton show, as a teenager? On the t-shirts was a photocopied image of Abloh’s new business card, with handwritten words commenting on how “surreal” it is, as well as what appeared to be his actual phone number.

As we all know by now, Virgil Abloh did not take a traditional route into fashion. He did not go to CSM and work in-house at a big brand, before starting out on his own. Whatever you want to make of his relationship with Kanye, he’s a self-made phenomenon with an infamous work ethic. In an Instagram caption accompanying a picture of himself on the runway for the finale, Abloh posted five simple words, “you can do it too”, daring others to dream like he did. This is not a man who thinks fashion is for a select few – this is a man who knows what it feels like to not get into shows, to be an outsider. This is a man who, when he started showing in Paris, posted pictures of his own Off-White invitations on Instagram and encouraged members of the public to turn up. The A-Z provided on each seat with a glossary of Ablohisms began with ‘after party’, saying that it was a gathering “intended for industry guests but made great by the civilian fans of the brand in question.”

“Beyond Abloh’s desire to break down walls and make this an occasion which so many could share in, it felt like an undeniable moment of recognition for the contributions to fashion that black men have made”

But beyond his desire to break down walls and make this an occasion which so many could share in, this felt like an undeniable moment of recognition for the contributions to fashion that black men have made. When West and Abloh embraced on the runway in an emotional hug, it was hard not to feel affected. After the show, he posed with the rapper, Don C, and Fonz Bentley, partially recreating a semi-infamous, widely mocked image of them at Paris Fashion Week about a decade ago. The joke’s now on those who ridiculed them. For too long, luxury houses have been happy to take the money of people like the young black musicians and talents who walked in the show (Playboi Carti, Kid CudiA$AP Nast among them) and not speak directly to them. This show put several nails in the coffin of that ivory tower attitude. “I’ve been putting on clothes from a young age and Louis Vuitton has always been the (brand) that I’ve always looked at but it’s been so far away,” said Lash, the Londoner who opened the show. “Virgil coming into it changes it completely… it’s history and we’re part of it.”

While we, as an industry, need to put in real work to undo the structural inequalities which have meant that there are so few people of colour in positions like Abloh’s, the snobbery that said that a black man from Chicago with no fashion degree didn’t deserve a seat at this table has been shown for the outdated bullshit it is. There’s still work to do, of course, but fashion is all about change. Yesterday, it changed. And that was a beautiful thing to witness.