Designer Virgil Abloh rules Paris Men's Fashion Week's catwalk

Fashion designer Virgil Abloh on the runway after showing his Off-White Spring/Summer 2019 men's collection during Paris Men's Fashion Week last week.
Fashion designer Virgil Abloh on the runway after showing his Off-White Spring/Summer 2019 men's collection during Paris Men's Fashion Week last week.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS • Fashion's designer of the moment Virgil Abloh channelled James Dean and graffiti legend Dondi White at his Off-White Paris show.

The American creator's hype machine had pretty much hijacked the opening days of the Paris Men's Fashion Week and Kanye West's former sidekick and muse made his debut at the helm of Louis Vuitton last Thursday.

But first, Abloh rolled out his own Off-White label's Spring/Summer collection last Wednesday, which he said was inspired by "those crazy summer New York City nights when it's just as sticky hot at midnight as it was at noon".

With temperatures in Paris every bit as high, he sent out a run of almost nostalgic youth-culture looks, with references to the classic film Rebel Without A Cause (1955) and white T-shirts with tags in homage to the late New York artist White.

True to his streetwear roots, his T-shirts were long and baggy and often cut to the elbow and beyond.

His love of branding even extended to the shoelaces, which had "shoelaces" written on them just in case there might be a doubt.

Several models sported neck and trouser chains made from climbing hooks, with re-cut and embroidered jeans aping a D-I-Y teenage bedroom vibe, which included leaving the security tags on shoes.

While Abloh is drooled over by young fans who flock to his shows, some in the front rows whisper that the new darling of the French luxury conglomerate LVMH - which owns Vuitton - is "not a real designer" because he did not go to fashion school.

Instead, the creator - who trained as an engineer and architect - cut his teeth with his famous friend West designing outfits on Photoshop. He has also accumulated an enviable address book of celebrity friends and 2.3 million Instagram followers.

He did, however, learn a thing or two about the trade from his mother, an immigrant seamstress from Ghana, who made a new life in Illinois.

Abloh loves to add the odd couture touch, this time with a pair of jeans with a kind of floral toile de Jouy pattern that would not be out of place on the wall of a French chateau.

In fact, the sometime DJ has a finger in many pies, with an art show running in London alongside Japanese pop art legend Takashi Murakami.

Before his Off-White show, he told French daily Le Figaro that he had much to bring to Vuitton, the world's biggest luxury brand. "I simply think that Louis Vuitton is missing the products that me and my generation want to buy," he said.

Abloh, 38, is only the second black man to rise to the top of a big Paris fashion house, with French designer Olivier Rousteing responsible for Balmain's men's and women's lines.

He was appointed to the Vuitton job in March. He replaced Kim Jones, who moved to design menswear at Christian Dior - also one of the large roster of brands owned by LVMH, at a time of upheaval for men's designs as sales pick up in an industry long dominated by womenswear.

A lurch towards streetwear looks - including the ubiquity of sneakers, which all top luxury brands are now embracing - has helped growth in the category.

Abloh surprised with less of an emphasis on logos and urban looks than some expected, opting for carefully tailored suit jackets in block colours, including bold reds or beige.

"He respected the codes and the heritage of Louis Vuitton, which is important for a house of this nature, but he infused his own sensibility and DNA into what we saw," said Roopal Patel, fashion director of department store Saks Fifth Avenue.

The designer also put the accent on accessories - one of the mainstays of Vuitton, originally a luggage maker - with holster-style leather vests worn over the shoulders, and classic bags offset by edgy, fluorescent chains hanging from the handles.

The collection kicked off with all-white styles before evolving into colours.

Some looks included bead-incrusted jackets with a motif drawn from the 1939 movie, The Wizard Of Oz, and featuring its heroine Dorothy, who is transported in the film into a colour-infused dream world from her black-and-white life.

The kaleidoscope effect was also present on the edges of the catwalk, with 3,000 fashion students and Vuitton workers wearing coloured T-shirts flanking the runway.

Paris Men's Fashion Week ended yesterday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2018, with the headline 'Designer Virgil Abloh rules Paris Men's Fashion Week's catwalk'. Print Edition | Subscribe