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Off-White SS17
Backstage at Off-White SS17Photography Chloé Le Drezen

Why Virgil Abloh invited his Instagram followers to his show

From turning up to shows uninvited to putting on his own, the designer’s vision for fashion is all about inclusivity

Arriving beneath the glittering silver Philharmonie de Paris for Virgil Abloh’s Off-White show yesterday, one sight was impossible to ignore. Stretched out alongside the building in a snaking row were the legions of fans who had shown up, without a ticket, in the hope of securing a standing spot. Many donned items by the designer, with the brand’s signature diagonal stripes featuring prominently on their backs like a uniform (in fact, they’ve been omnipresent all fashion season, cropping up on showgoers from city to city). But those in the queue weren’t uninvited guests or hopeful blaggers. “The address & time are here for all the kids to come,” Abloh had written on his Instagram, advertising both the show and the after-party backstage immediately afterwards to his followers. “Very inclusive, not really exclusive.” 

It’s this ethos of inclusivity that defines his vision as a designer. Speaking backstage after the show, which saw band merch-style graphics inspired by his “rock star heroes” reworked into knitwear, as well as punkish tartan, torn denim, and sportswear made in collaboration with Umbro, he opened up about his time on the outside of the industry looking in. “I was that, I literally was that,” he said with sincerity, referring to the kids in line outside. “Coming to Paris, trying to see shows and getting denied at the front door. You go to a show, they say no, so you go home! To be a product of that, and not recognise the power for a kid to see their first fashion show – that’s ludicrous.”

“I was that, I literally was that... Coming to Paris, trying to see shows and getting denied at the front door” –Virgil Abloh

Those kids weren’t just coming to see a show – they were getting a glimpse into the community that surrounds Off-White, a look into its world. You only had to take note of some of the audience members to see how wide-ranging it was – there was model Luka Sabbat, artist and past Abloh collaborator Cali Thornhill DeWitt, and creative directors Heron Preston and A$AP Bari. Even Vetements and Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia was there, and Kanye contributed an extended mix of his “Father Stretch Out My Hands” for the occasion. “It’s like, by friends, for friends, you know?” Abloh said of the label. “We make our own rules.”

While it may have friends feeding in, you get the feeling that every last detail is personally vetted by the designer. From the invitations, all unique, which contained a scrap of fabric like the one that hung at the mouth of the runway, to the cards that were placed on seats, the disposable cameras given by the designer to select guests, and the name badges worn by each member of staff – all with precise, matching typography. “Ah man, to me it’s everything,” Abloh explained of the ephemera that surrounded the show. “Off-White is a brand, not a clothing line, it’s me making a young house. (We) don’t just do t-shirts – it’s a way of thinking.”

Speaking to Abloh, his passion is clear. And it’s being noticed – this season’s show was several times grander in scale than his first, just six months previously. He might have been dismissed as someone who “just does t-shirts” or those hyped-up striped garments, but he’s not to be underestimated – each season builds upon the last, with his womenswear also gaining strength and momentum. He probably won’t win over all the sceptics, but he has a receptive audience – a group of people who believe in his vision. What’s more important than that?