If there’s one lesson that Virgil Abloh taught the fashion industry, it’s that a limitless imagination pays off. The late designer’s final men’s wear collection for Louis Vuitton encapsulated the themes of boyhood and the touches of surrealism that ran through his eight collections for the French luxury house.
On a sky blue set dubbed the Louis Dreamhouse, models, dancers and an orchestra came together for a multilayered performance that drew an emotional standing ovation from an audience that included luxury magnate Bernard Arnault, Abloh’s wife Shannon, and celebrities including J Balvin, Victor Cruz, Naomi Campbell, Venus Williams and Tyler, the Creator, who wrote the soundtrack. (Campbell returned to walk in a second “friends and family” show.)
The event started with acrobatic dancers seemingly bouncing off a staircase leading onto the set, as members of Britain’s Chineke Orchestra, which champions diversity in classical music, struck up under the direction of famed Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel.
The collection was 95 percent completed by the time of Abloh’s unexpected death from cancer in November at the age of 41, and carried all his signatures, with a strong romantic undertone that brought to mind his flower-strewn spring 2020 collection, shown on the picturesque Place Dauphine.
It manifested in ethereal touches, such as a few models dressed in ivory outfits, sporting kite-shaped wings made of white lace; basketball caps shrouded with wedding veils, and an allover print blending the house’s signature monogram with a pastel-colored 19th-century floral tapestry motif.
Abloh’s love of art was reflected in outfits incorporating tapestry renditions of paintings by Gustave Courbet and Giorgio de Chirico. His sportswear roots were echoed in varsity jackets covered in cartoon graphics of wizards, animals, cherubs, clouds and the Grim Reaper — though he’d recently made a strong case for tailoring, reflected in suits and coats with exaggerated shoulders.
Accessories added a surrealist flourish, with bucket bags shaped like paint cans, and a Keepall weekend bag in a semitransparent Damier pattern that looked like it was suspended in space.
It was all part of what the house referred to as Abloh’s Boyhood Ideology: seeing the world with the unspoiled eyes of a child. “Through this lens, the membrane between reality and imagination is nonexistent. Dreams can come true,” Vuitton said in the collection notes.
Speaking after the show, an emotional Benji B, who supervised the musical direction of all of Abloh’s collections at Vuitton, said the designer had wanted to bring a sense of theater to the show, which was Vuitton’s first physical men’s wear display in Paris in 18 months. The score was arranged by Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai, a favorite of both men, making it a truly international project.
“I just want to be surrounded by people that really understand the assignment. It’s not a job for them, it’s a sort of emotional creative investment, and understanding the culture that V brought to Vuitton and everything that we brought, because as you know, every show is an amazing cocktail and collage, a tapestry of references coming from all over,” the producer said. “I really wanted this to be a celebration.”
While Tyler composed eight new pieces for the show, the finale song was a track from his 2017 album “Flower Boy” titled “See You Again.” Members of Abloh’s design studio walked out to loud applause, lingering on the runway to hug the models.
Referring to his autodidactic journey to the pinnacle of luxury, Abloh used to tell his followers: “You can do it, too.” His wife has pledged to perpetuate his efforts to support the education of academically promising Black students. If stuck for inspiration, they need only look at his body of work: it’s testimony to the power of blue sky thinking.