“Virgil took the realest, most authentic way he knew how to dress and made it high fashion,” writes Vogue fashion critic Anders Christian Madsen. Here, everything you need to know about Abloh’s final bow.
Before he died, Virgil Abloh designed an entire haute couture collection
As a long-time collaborator of Virgil Abloh’s, I always knew he was supernaturally prolific. But the wealth of ideas and creations he conceived just in the months before his death on 28 November last year doesn’t cease to amaze me. When, a few weeks ago, his friends Mahfuz and Chloe Sultan – who directed his final Off-White show in Paris on Monday evening – told me Virgil had designed and fitted an entire haute couture collection for his brand before he died, I was floored. Nothing could serve as a greater testament to his mind: never one to rest on his laurels, he was always challenging himself; always going places. For Virgil, haute couture was about so much more than trying his hand at savoir-faire and red carpet dresses. It was symbolic of the revolution he started in the fashion industry.
The show opened with Virgil’s final ready-to-wear collections
Appropriately, the Off-White show opened with Virgil’s final ready-to-wear collections for women and men. If fashion was traditionally structured as a pyramid where haute couture was the apex that filtered into ready-to-wear trends, which then eventually hit the streets, Virgil turned that pyramid upside-down. What he brought to fashion came from the street. It’s why they called it “streetwear”, a word he found charged because he thought fashion had bastardised it into being about hoodies and sneakers when, really, it was founded in a hip-hop community with its own fashion system. When Virgil became a designer, he drew on the clothes he had grown up wearing as part of that community. He took the realest, most authentic way he knew how to dress and made it high fashion.
The show illustrated Abloh’s legacy
Virgil’s final Off-White ready-to-wear collections drew on many of the codes he played with in his work, from the skateboarding wardrobe to cheeky “bling-bling” dresses and skiwear silhouettes. He loved performance-wear. But it was the way it paved the way for the haute couture collection that came after, which really underlined the power of the everyday wardrobe he created at Off-White. Because, his 28 haute couture looks were all founded in the codes of what Virgil knew best. The collection was presented around a giant chandelier – a symbol of the Parisian establishment he infiltrated and occasionally trolled – and a TR-909 drum machine on which Jeff Mills, the Detroit-born techno pioneer, performed a live piece. Virgil’s wife Shannon Abloh was in the audience joined by Rihanna and A$AP Rocky.
The haute couture show was packed with supers and symbolism
Bella Hadid opened the couture show followed by the likes of Gigi Hadid, Helena Christensen, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Amber Valletta, Adut Akech, Mariacarla Boscono, Honey Dijon, Candice Swanepoel, Karen Elson, Caroline Trentini and Bianca Balti. It had all the trimmings of an establishment show, but this was haute couture like you’d never seen it. “The Bride” had a wedding veil over a baseball cap embroidered with the word “BABE”. She wore sneakers and carried her heels in her hand. “The Skater” paired a tank top and a hand-stitched varsity jacket cropped into a bolero with a cascading millefeuille crinoline tagged in spray-paint, uniting Virgil’s skateboarding culture with the codes of haute couture. “The Verg” was a self-portrait composed of an oversized alcantara coat, a magnified tulle and radzimir skirt, a baseball cap, sneakers, and sunglasses.
Abloh included a message for his adversaries
I personally loved “The Icon”, a bustier swathed in black jersey adorned with a crystal-embroidered stop sign that read “no snitchin’”. It was a reference to the slogan merch created by the hip-hop collective Dipset in the ’90s, and a nod to a pop cultural and political sentiment Virgil often heard during upbringing: “Fuck the Police.” He included it in the collection as a message to the fashion industry watchdogs on social media, who would try to “call him out” on copying other designers when a huge part of his practice was, in fact, to raise awareness around the codes European fashion had stolen from Black cultures and subcultures in the first place. In the digital fashion age, Virgil’s message with that dress was this: Fuck the Fashion Police. Even from beyond, he’s still making me smile.