“I feel the world’s changed,” said Virgil Abloh during an interview with Vogue in the summer of 2021 while debuting his Fall 2021 collection for Off-White among the Paris haute couture presentations.
Upon news of Abloh’s unexpected death that November, the fashion world would indeed change in the fall of 2021, forced to reckon with the loss of one of its brightest and most dynamic stars.
Without Abloh, who also helmed menswear at Louis Vuitton, the upcoming Paris Fashion Week (Womenswear) will likely also feel somewhat different in 2022. Nevertheless, the multi-hyphenate artist will be there in spirit through what are believed to be his final designs for the label he created— ones, that, in turn, made him a star. Previewing the collection, which will help to open the week on the final day of February with an “immersive runway experience” in tribute to its founder, Vogue noted that Off-White Spring 2022 seemed to evoke another statement made by Abloh during that July 2021 interview: “Off-White should be adult.”
The collection’s name, “Sticks & Stones,” doesn’t immediately connote maturity, but, as the magazine reports, “The men’s tailoring is sharply done — adult, if you will,” later adding: “Workwear is another theme that crosses both [the men’s and women’s] collections … Utility, though, is only part of the story in the women’s collection, which was lent its on-trend sexy streak by lingerie and activewear touches.”
In other words, Abloh’s baby is now all grown up and, in the wake of its founder’s absence, must now take its next steps alone.
“Going forward, their job will be striking a balance between homage and honoring Abloh’s drive for constant forward movement,” declared Vogue, further sharing that the Feb. 28 presentation is intended to “embrace the joy and eternal optimism of [Off-White’s] founder” as it “strives to continue [his] work of opening doors and inviting all to the conversation.”
To that end, it’s also fair to note that Abloh reportedly prefaced his comment about a changed world by saying, “I get frustrated if I don’t feel an evolution, and the message becomes monotonous.” For the team at Off-White, it is no different. While the 41-year-old’s death isn’t the brand evolution anyone could have hoped for, the label he founded will now be tested, as were those once helmed by Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen, and Azzedine Alaïa, among others — another lauded fashion house suddenly left to carry on without its visionary founder.
How Off-White will evolve without Abloh — its enigmatic core — remains to be seen. But while the designer’s death was a tragic and unexpected blow to the industry, what also seems evident is that Abloh was one of few top artists in their crafts (Chadwick Boseman and David Bowie arguably among them) able to, at the very least, anticipate and in many ways orchestrate their final statements. As already demonstrated by Abloh’s eighth and final collection for Louis Vuitton, the designer’s tremendous imagination and artistic output are the legacies he leaves the public. In fact, while the presentation was titled “Louis Dreamhouse,” the vision was quintessentially Abloh, as noted by GQ:
The show, dubbed Louis Dreamhouse, was Virgil Abloh’s grand finale, his theory of just about everything, unifying his vision and solidifying his oeuvre, with an assist from his trusty stylist, Ib Kamara. “Virgil and I, and his design team were just starting to have real fun,” Kamara told GQ. Fun indeed, as the collection sent up conventions in a way that only Virgil Abloh and Kamara could. Gender binaries, expressions and identities were subverted and turned on their heads. Louis Dreamhouse was for the kids, pure and unlimited in their imaginations, unburdened but societal constructs. Masculine and feminine viewpoints merged, and rules were broken: men wore tulle skirts and heels and carried handbags with swagger. Abloh seemed to be freeing Black men from their own masculinity. Angel wings constructed in lace, tulle, cotton poplin with embroideries were the physical manifestation of this freedom.
While we await the evolving vision of Off-White — and the announcement of his successor at Louis Vuitton — Abloh’s final presentations stand as a testament to the brief but stratospheric career of a fashion wunderkind. In short, Virgil was here.
The first half of Off-White’s Spring 2022 collection can be previewed at Vogue.
Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in the fashion and entertainment industries, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).
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