The moment that went viral was a long, tearful hug between Kanye West and his friend and former mentee Virgil Abloh. At the Paris menswear shows, Virgil had presented his own-label collection Off-White the day before, but this was the big one. The first black man ever to be appointed to the top job at Louis Vuitton (and only the third to lead a major Paris house, after Ozwald Boateng at Givenchy and Olivier Rousteing at Balmain), and a major proponent of streetwear as high fashion, Virgil had just presented his much-anticipated debut collection. And it was good.
It was a momentous occasion, and it had a message. Virgil took Vuitton's historic travel theme (you'll know the famous monogrammed luggage) and updated it for the moment, with a rainbow-coloured catwalk, an international cast of models as authentically diverse as Paris has ever seen, and a map showing where they all came from, and where their parents came from too. A message of representation and unity was woven throughout the occasion. But for 21 women, it was abundantly clear that this event wasn’t for them. Despite the show’s clear messaging, Virgil’s Vuitton didn’t see them. Didn’t believe them.
They probably saw it coming: Malika Anderson, Jean Deaux, Jenni Stampley, Taryn Williams, Kadiata Diallo and ‘Alyssa’ (not her real name), and the 15 other women who, Amber Rose has said, also accuse Virgil’s friend, Kanye’s former 'head creative consultant' and the self-appointed 'King Of The Youth' Ian Connor of rape. When Virgil was appointed at Louis Vuitton, these 21 women likely realised that the man they accused of being a serial rapist could now appear in this exclusive and privileged context. Ian was still cropping up on Virgil’s Instagram account, but his reputation could find rehabilitation on a much grander scale if he received fashion’s ultimate seal of approval and respect: a front row seat. Validated alongside the most famous and influential people in the world: Naomi, Rihanna, Kim and Kanye, A$AP Rocky, Kylie Jenner, Travis Scott, Bella Hadid, Miguel, Natalia Vodianova, Chadwick Boseman, Doutzen Kroes, and more.
The day before the Vuitton show, Ian Connor was in Paris. He didn’t hide it; he tagged one of his Instagram stories there. It was a relief then to see that Ian wasn’t on the front row at Virgil’s own-label show, Off-White. But he was there. Backstage after the show, he was photographed alongside P. Diddy’s sons Quincy and Christian Combs. Despite Virgil’s prodigious Instagram story-making, Ian didn’t feature on the day of the Vuitton show – though his 'Revenge Skate' crew did. He was there in Paris, in Virgil’s milieu, and backstage at Off-White – but surely Louis Vuitton wouldn’t allow him to appear at its show?
Fashion doesn’t seem to have changed that much since the #MeToo moment. From allegedly abusive and supposedly shamed photographers reappearing on the shoot circuit, to consistently offensive designers getting endless free passes, and editors protected by their power and an industry-wide silence, we have come to expect ever less from the fashion herd. There was something inevitable (if not quite believable) about Ian Connor being seated proudly on the Louis Vuitton front row, next to a huge pile of limited edition monogrammed luggage. The 21 women who say he raped them were probably not surprised. Society doesn’t believe women, so why would fashion?
You won’t spot Ian Connor in the viral video of Kanye and Virgil’s emotional embrace. The stylist, creative consultant and streetwear hypebeast wasn’t in the social media posts or front row images of Rihanna and Rocky, Naomi and Bella, or Kylie, Kim and Kanye. Banished from the most photographed section of the front row benches, Ian was sat with Love & Hip Hop star Tommie Lee at the very end of the runway, with only that haul of monogrammed luggage between him and the photographers’ pit. He really did get that front row seat, that seal of approval.
No one wants to rain on Virgil’s parade. He is a symbol of the culture finally shifting in fashion, after far too long. An African-American man with no formal fashion training who worked hard, built an independent brand that contributed to a redefinition of modern luxury, and was promoted to one of the industry’s most privileged positions; a rightful recognition of his impressive creative and business credentials. And, as A$AP Rocky likes to point out, Ian Connor "never went to jail". Connor denies the rape allegations and has never been arrested or charged in connection with them. (Malika wrote that she didn’t have "enough concrete evidence", which is so often an issue in cases of rape.) "It’s innocent until proven guilty," Amber Rose agrees, "but when you have 21 women from all over the world that do not know each other but have similar stories, it gets to the point where it’s like… enough."
As an industry, fashion must ask itself when enough will truly be enough. When will the testimonies of 21 women – 21 alleged rape victims – be enough to deny a man the immense social and cultural capital of a front row seat? How many rape allegations will be enough for fashion journalists to ask Virgil why he still wants Ian there, in pride of place? Not one of the major fashion reports, interviews or reviews even mentions Ian Connor’s presence, let alone asks Virgil to explain it.
"I want a young generation to know there’s someone listening," Virgil told Vogue before the Vuitton show. A self-made force in contemporary fashion, Virgil has good reason to claim this communion with the youth, and youth culture generally. But there are 21 women he isn’t listening to. Twenty-one rape allegations that the fashion industry – despite its apparent feminism, and support of celebrity #TimesUp initiatives – would rather not talk about. "[O]ne of the problems with the Connor case is that many of the women he allegedly targeted are young, poor and black, so they were too afraid to report him," Marlow Stern wrote in the Daily Beast. "They felt it was their word against that of a wealthy, well-connected celebrity hanger-on." Ian Connor's unchallenged seat at the table of high fashion has done nothing to suggest that they were wrong.
Refinery29 contacted Louis Vuitton for comment on this article, but has not yet received a response.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.