Here’s everything you need to know about the designer’s poignant swansong
That Virgil Abloh remains one of the most revolutionary designers in contemporary culture is not just conjecture. Since his death in November 2021, the industry has struggled to grapple with the loss of someone whose activity had always appeared to be ceaseless and whose mere presence became the blueprint for a generation of young creatives. With the permission of his family, his final projects are beginning to come to light, among them panel talks and runway shows, all of which have been poignant reminders of Abloh’s mantra – “You can do it too”. Now, as we stand on the sidelines of the Carreau du Temple in Paris, here’s everything that went down at Virgil Abloh’s final Louis Vuitton show.
THE INVITATION WAS A WOODPECKER TOY
Virgil Abloh approached the arts with endless curiosity, spreading himself across fashion, music, and interiors with childlike wonder. His debut as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear in 2018 offered up his take on The Wizard of Oz, and his tenure at the French fashion house was punctuated with paper planes, parlour games, and toy houses. Of his previous collection, the designer spoke on the notion of childhood as “an ideology that continues to be part of the Louis Vuitton men’s practice”, framing the unspoiled imagination of a child as a metaphor “for possibility and open-mindedness, and our need to reconnect with those instincts.” Fittingly, this season’s invitation landed at Parisian hotel rooms in what looked like a champagne box. Only, once opened, it revealed itself as a wooden woodpecker toy – a charming and forthright nod towards one’s inner child, and Abloh’s personal symbol of determination and perseverance.
A DREAMLIKE HOUSE WAS AT THE CENTRE OF THE SPACE
As guests filed into the cavernous, light-filled space (as the sun finally came out in Paris after a long stretch of grey), they were immediately confronted by a huge, pale blue house with a red roof and chimney, from which smoke billowed up into the rafters. To the other end of the hall, an orchestra sat around blown-up, cartoon-like tables on similarly comical stools. Abloh’s use of symbolism is often blunt and here it was as if he was deliberately juxtaposing his childhood home with high society, tracing just how far he had come, and offering all of us a seat in the process. Of course, it would be remiss not to mention Donda, though where Ye’s recreation of his Chicago home felt austere and punishing, Abloh’s was dreamlike and nostalgic, bathed in the warm light of the gloaming.
THE COLLECTION CONSOLDATED THE PAST 8 SEASONS
Louis Vuitton Menswear aw22, Virgil Abloh's last collection at Louis Vuitton <3 pic.twitter.com/tOsUphat3k— linda (@itgirlenergy) January 20, 2022
Abloh often said that everything he did was for his 17-year-old self. An age at which a person straddles boyhood and adulthood, where naivety and curiosity have not yet been dampened by real life woes, and where one can still feel the future at their fingertips. The collection consolidated the themes most pertinent to Abloh’s time at Vuitton, rooted in an experimental practice, not yet sullen by societal norms. On the runway, that translates to clothing which transcends and transgresses genre, colliding tailoring with sportswear, and streetwear with bridalwear. From crib to crinoline, quite literally. There were cape-like tracksuits, fuzzy bags, billowing scarf shirts, svelte, sequined suits, and varsity jackets plastered in cartoonish motifs. Velour tracksuits were transformed into techy jackets, as male models became brides in veiled snapbacks and swollen tulle skirts. Hybridisaiton was always a central tenet to Abloh’s design practice, and here, these somewhat berserk creations underscored the designer’s belief that “humour is an entry point for humanity” – something he first said during a lecture at Columbia University, describing his approach to irony, abstraction, and his signature quotation marks.
THERE WERE STAR CAMEOS, BUT NOT AS EXPECTED
In lieu of the usual cameos – think Goldie, Evan Mock, and Hector Bellerin – members of Abloh’s atelier and wider team huddled onto the stage. That being said, Tyler, the Creator composed the twinkling soundtrack with arrangements by Arthur Verocai, performed by the Chineke! Orchestra. As the score concluded with a touching rendition of Tyler’s 2017 “See You Again”, these sprawling musical influences, manned by disparate groups of people from across the globe, embodied the emphasis that Abloh had always put on community and togetherness.
THERE WAS A SPIRITUAL ELEMENT
Just as the show traced Abloh’s coming-of-age narrative in abstract narration, themes of spirituality and transience also came to the fore. At a certain point, models began to walk out in nimble fairy wings, forged from delicate lace, which as the show progressed, became bigger and bolshier, as if they were about to take flight. Kites, too, were paraded in models hands, as grim reaper badges were tacked onto garments, and models stalked the space in menacing plague masks. The whole show was dreamlike and undeniably heavenly, but this was no euphemism. Just as life can be full of fantasy and hope, so too can it be a nightmare.
ABLOH CEMENTED HIS SURREALIST STATUS
As models stretched and contorted themselves into amorphous shapes, a bevy of leather bags were fashioned to resemble tins of paint and a square trunk had been warped out of shape like a Dalí clock – a motif Abloh had previously referenced at Off-White. Misshapen and wiggly, all of these were reminiscent of the fisheye lens that Tim Walker used in recent advertising campaigns for Louis Vuitton, images which transformed the camera into Abloh’s hall of mirrors. Elsewhere, a leather keep-all had been punctured with a cut-out checkerboard pattern, which brought to mind Abloh’s SS22 collection inspired by chess. This goes beyond the designer playing with the codes of Louis Vuitton, though, aligning himself with the proponents of surrealism, which makes sense given the show had been described as a “metaphysical space of possibility” AKA somewhere dreamlike and somnambulant. This was then bolstered by all those René Magritte clouds, which had bled into so many of Abloh’s creations.
THERE’S A SECOND SHOW FOR FRIENDS AND FAMILY TONIGHT
While this afternoon’s show was mainly for press and buyers, there will be another presentation this evening for close friends and family. “People have really expressed a desire for communion. Let’s not forget, this is the first physical (men’s) show (for Vuitton) in Paris in a year and a half,” Louis Vuitton’s CEO told WWD. “Then there’s of course the desire to remember Virgil together, not somewhere online or at our homes, but together in a public space.” This will coincide with the publishing of a fanzine which will commemorate Louis Vuitton’s Miami show. 1,500 copies will be available at 0FR, one of Abloh’s favourite Parisian bookstores.