Virgil Abloh likes to say that his women’s collections for Off-White are inspired by the fashionable young women in his circle — think Gigi Hadid, who closed his Off-White men’s show in Paris this week, and sat front row at Louis Vuitton the following day.
So it came as a surprise that the women on his mood board this season were short, deeply wrinkled and dressed to withstand freezing sea conditions, rather than heading for dinner at Nobu. It turned out the resort lineup was derived from Hyung S. Kim’s photographs of female divers in South Korea.
Called haenyeo, most of them are aged over 60, and they have developed a style all their own: black or orange wetsuits layered with colorful printed tops, and weighted belts to help them sink faster. “There is this mix of layering, netting, workwear and neoprene that I was inspired by,” Abloh said.
Those weights inspired the pod-shaped belt bag strapped over a lime green Neoprene suit, while the wet suits were translated into spongy knit tops and play suits with ring pull zippers. Fish scale sequins glimmered on a spiral-cut slipdress, while high-heeled shoes came with surfboard-style ankle leashes.
There were times when the correlation between mood board and final product was blatant. Accessories took the look into a more refined direction, especially the new variations on the Jitney bag, which Abloh said was doing brisk business at the brand’s dedicated Leather Goods store in New York City.
The bag is also featured in the label’s first outdoor advertising campaign, which Abloh sees as strategic on several levels. “How do you spread the message of a brand? I think it’s one component,” he said, noting that the power of advertising is one of the central themes of his “Figures of Speech” retrospective at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
“That’s sort of what the through-line is: believing in an image. If it’s on a billboard, that must mean it’s big. And as I grow in terms of my projects, the art side of the things I make is very much inherently tied to believing in an image,” he said. Call it yet another case of taking a photograph literally.