Fashion shows, usually, begin with a quiet hum of excitement, of anticipation. Not so at Louis Vuitton's Miami presentation this evening. Just this week, the maison announced the passing of its revered and respected men's creative director Virgil Abloh after a private battle with cancer. Where the front row so often whisper and selfie, the sibilance was on pause, churchly hands clasped together on laps, far fewer smartphones than normal suspended in the air. For while this fashion show didn't quite have the tenor of a funeral (and rightly so), it certainly felt like a farewell. It also felt prematurely final, as Abloh, the 41-year-old trailblazer, would not be appearing at the runway's mouth upon the show's end.
'Gone too soon' feels like a well-worn cliche, though when applied to Abloh's relatively brief but remarkable tenure at one of the world's oldest fashion houses – indeed, when applied to this very collection – it's hard not to wonder what could have, and should have, come after this Miami presentation. The clothes were testament to this sense of stolen promise. Translucent track jackets, generously edged with the house monogram, sat atop coordinating sweats. Chalet girl earmuffs were cartoonish, as were the bear trappers on steroids. A frenetic palette ran the gamut of blood red, acid green, white, pitch black, blue, grey, hot pink and brick brown. It's hard to put a lid on this sort of collection, or tie a bow around it; that is a refreshingly Ablohian signature.
Subjectivities aside, that makes this stuff unarguably exciting. Abloh, forever looking at fashion and culture through a childlike kaleidoscope, was one of the first of his cohort to flip the notions of old, Euro-centric luxury on its head. This wasn't muted, pared back clothing for wealth that whispers; this was a statement, grailwear, design that highlighted the aspirational part of luxury fashion in the brightest, lightest ink. Under Abloh's steer, Vuitton never shouted louder, and the kids (and the rest of us) never wanted it harder. But rather than a cacophony, the result was a sold out concert packed full of headline acts. Tonight's show was no exception.
Moreover, there was a frenzied hype to Vuitton's heritage. Tailored pieces played host to dreamy mountain vistas, and ombre leathers, just big enough to fit an iPhone and a Juul (or, conversely, big enough to fit an entire RCF speaker), melted from primary colours to briefcase neutrals. There's no shade of grey here, and, like the varied carousel on display, it works. Everything wholeheartedly subscribed to Abloh's vaunted and valuable doctrine of making clothes that make one excited.
Because, while Abloh treated his work with the utmost respect, he always approached it with a childlike irreverence. In this enchanted wood on the Miami shore, much like the rainbow path of his debut show for Vuitton, anything could theoretically thrive. But the designer has taken his vision beyond the preexisting fantasy of the runway. This is reality for so many people now: a soccer shirt atop a crinoline doesn't sound quite so farfetched these days.
At the show's close, Abloh's team assembled; a silent stand-in for their late captain. His words echoed out as the heart of a blood red hot air balloon fired into ignition: "There's no limit. Life is so short." As fireworks began to explode, a largely silent mass of onlookers took to their feet to gaze upwards, some catching the spectacle on a smartphone. Against this backdrop, on the screens of those beyond Florida, the words 'Virgil was here' appeared in neat, elegant cursive. He was most certainly here as we watched at home, and right there in Miami. At Louis Vuitton, and in Off-White, and upon a road less-travelled that is now all the more navigable for Abloh's trailblazing, he will forever remain here too.
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