Virgil Abloh titled his Off-White men’s show “Tornado Warning” — appropriate for a new year that has already seen more than its share of catastrophes.
“You have countries burning, you have threats of world war. On a micro level, you have strikes in Paris where you can’t even move. So it’s like, how do you make sense of all of this turmoil?” the designer said backstage. “I believe in optimism rather than pessimism.”
That the fall season should find Abloh in a contemplative mood is perhaps not surprising. Returning to Paris after a three-month absence for unspecified “health considerations,” he’s had time to reflect on the fashion merry-go-round, and he’s more determined than ever to keep moving the needle.
Instead of the usual voiceover, he began the show with a mesmerizing live performance by tap artist Cartier Williams. The opening looks signaled his boys had grown into men.
There was an uncharacteristic sobriety to a gray suit that brought to mind Abloh’s debut runway show for his men’s collection in 2016 — except this one had oversize holes punched into the fabric.
While he was away, Abloh introduced a new visual identity for the label. In lieu of its diagonal stripes, the arrow cross and quotation marks, the new logo shows a sinking person’s hands and face below the words “Off” and “White.” The holes, inspired by the “cheesehead” hats worn by Wisconsin sports fans, are part of the new brand ID.
They cropped up on everything from an oversize gray felt coat to a scarlet suit, as well as on the tags attached to jacket sleeves. Abloh recently caused a furore by declaring the death of streetwear, but this display clarified what he meant: that the movement is ripe for a swing toward a more traditional vision of male elegance.
“That was just me riffing, but I will for sure want to be known as a thought leader on the concept, not just riding the coattails of the style movement,” he explained.
There was an urban flair to a slate wool shirt with drawstring pulls, a gray herringbone blanket poncho and a belted beige trenchcoat. Even the outerwear had a sophisticated sheen: highlights included a silky chestnut puffer jacket and a belted jacket in glossy plum leather.
The languid silhouettes reflected a newfound sense of romance, especially the silky pleated pants and billowing oversize bomber jackets. Abloh made sure to include a couple of printed shirts and intarsia sweaters for fans of logo merch, but his message was clear: Off-White has moved on, and so has he.
“I think it’s foolish to believe that anything stays for forever, especially in trends and fashion,” he said. “I’m interested in staying in the groove that culture and fashion move in, and I think things are evolving. I’m very much a different designer than when I started, and I’m responding to different things.”
History has shown that where Abloh goes, his legions of loyal fans follow. With this sleek collection, he proved that taking a break needn’t mean standing still.