Some months ago, the fashion industry saw its two masters of menswear share the spotlight: Kim Jones was leaving Louis Vuitton for Dior Homme, and Virgil Abloh, the Chicagoan who has never worked for a luxury design house, would replace him. While the former has yet to make his debut for the label, the latter, at the Palais Royal in Paris, just made history: as the third Black designer to helm a French maison, Abloh has managed to refresh the beloved menswear arm of the biggest luxury fashion brand in the world in radical ways no one predicted.
For starters, the Paris Fashion Week show's theme of Diversity will likely serve as the pinnacle and blueprint for any other high-tier designer stumped on just how to add the right kind of colour to their collections. Along with the show notes came a coded map that showed where the models — predominantly people of colour, including celebrity catwalkers Kid Cudi, Dev Hynes, and Playboi Carti — and their parents, came from. And then there was the front row: his longtime mentor and former employer Kanye West (with whom he shared a viral, tearful hug as he took his bow), Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Bella Hadid, and others. To complete the audience, Abloh invited local design students, wooed by free T-shirts, to help cushion the crowds along his gradient catwalk.
But, in terms of what they were all there for — to survey Louis Vuitton's latest coup de foudre since Marc Jacobs — did Abloh's most important collection meet the hype? Yes. Did it surpass expectations, raise any bar, or make us think differently about the menswear market? No. But did it need to? Perhaps it was more utilitarian than ever, with military-grade vests, oversized denim workwear pieces, a long-awaited sneaker arrival and a Yeezy influence throughout. But it was what's to be expected from someone who can credit Instagram for part of his success. Bottom line: He succeeded, while still making a few bomber jackets.
Most of the industry will be split on Abloh's debut: Those who are loyal to Jones — and whose roster of chosen streetwear icons, like Yohji Yamamoto, Helmut Lang, Raf Simons, etc., is already full — will take him to task on what he presented at Paris Fashion Week. But those others, perhaps the younger-generation seat-fillers, will continue to show him unconditional love (with their wallets or their knockoffs). What we know for sure, though, is this: It took Abloh only four years at his label, Off-White, to get to where he is now. While Louis Vuitton's spring 2019 menswear offering may not have said much to its legacy, it does mark a new beginning for the French luxury house. Like his rainbow-coloured Place Colette runway, the road ahead is very long.