Up at the Louis Vuitton men’s studio at the company’s headquarters at 2, Rue Pont Neuf today there was pandemonium, a swirling organized chaos, going on around Virgil Abloh. The man of the moment on whom the eyeballs of the fashion world are glued—and, more importantly, those of the global millions of the boy fans who adulate him—was bounding genially around, 24 hours before the debut which has already been characterized as a seismic upheaval at the very center of the fashion establishment. It’s not hard to appreciate that momentousness. This office building, where visitors must deposit their passports or ID cards before entry, has all the intimidating atmosphere of a French government department. It’s that grand, that powerful: The ministry of Louis Vuitton, where the first African-American, 37 years old, hailing from Rockford, Illinois, has taken over to direct the output of the storied luxury brand, for men.
As he greeted yet more friends, artists, musicians, and graphic designers, who were converging on the fitting—some will walk in the show—he passed through his office, pointing out decks and a mic, “We’ve got a radio station running out of here!” and then smiled, “Look at all my friends over here—males—they love style, they love luxury. They just want something they can believe in.”
Multi-tasker as he is—he’d just arrived back from his Off-White show, without a shadow of exhaustion about him—Abloh is conscious that his responsibility at Vuitton goes a good deal beyond just doing a great commercial job. He’s setting an example for a rising generation, too: “I’m here; I want to show that I’m just a figure with many more behind him. I’ve cracked open the door. I want to show it’s open, to meet people halfway.”
To that end, he has invited 3,000 students to the open air spectacular he’s planned, in a takeover of the gardens of the Palais Royal. On their seats, all guests will find a programme Abloh has thought through with the eye and brain of the graphic designer he is: “They will be able to identify who the models are, what they do. It’s about giving them an identity, about them no longer being anonymous bodies. There’s a map of where they live in the world, and where their parents came from. I thought that works, you know, with the idea of Louis Vuitton and travel. Bernard Arnault [Chairman and CEO of LVMH, Louis Vuitton’s parent company] got it immediately.”
It works on the level of much else, of course. Abloh is planning much more symbolism that will send his very visible, very people-friendly message of inclusion around the internet in nanoseconds as the audience takes their seats at 2pm Paris time. As he moved along the racks and checked over the trainers, he remarked, “Yeah, now men are buying trainers like women buy handbags.” (And, oh yes: His old school idea for these are going to cause earth tremors in sneakerhead land.) He also vocalized his feelings about the day he knew he was confirmed for the job, a condensed transcript of which follows: “For the whole day of the announcement there was this big outswell, this feeling of: It’s shocking! On the radio in Jamaica, they announced it. It was a big deal in America, it transcended. So I was like, wait, clothes are clothes. How can we add importance? Now it’s time to bring a message up with me.”
“Before, I’d already had, like, seven collections planned, but I took the plane from Chicago to Paris, and for six hours, I couldn’t sleep. Suddenly, I had this vision of all the anticipation on what’s going to happen at the show, of a bunch of people sitting with their arms crossed, going, ‘Show me what you got!’ So in three hours on that flight I re-drafted the whole collection. Obviously everyone was thinking I’m going to do steet wear. That’s not happening.
“I came up with this idea about white, but then, scientifically, the idea of white light hitting a prism, and then refracting into color. I mean, that’s me—I’m Off-White! That’s my raisonne, why I’m here, but now I have the impact of the house. But it’s deeper than that. It’s race, it’s models, it’s the political eco-system. And practically, it’s fabric, fit. Can I cut a suit? Tailoring—how can I do that?”
“Laying a foundation, that’s what this season’s about. I want to speak to the generation presiding. But I also want a young generation to come in and know, hey, there’s someone here who’s listening, and speaking back to them.”