Rainbow Road: Virgil Abloh’s Debut with Louis Vuitton Mens

Originally written in June 2018

It was an announcement in March of 2018 that sent a shockwave through the fashion-culture world. Kim Jones, the wonder-boy of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear, had just had his final showing a few weeks prior and now was off to eventually take helm as creative director of the Christian Dior. Jones had been extremely influential while at LV, capping his resume with one of the all-time collaborations in fashion history: the partnership of Vuitton and the king brand of street style, Supreme. The collection was a universal hit, blending the famed luxury lifestyle brand’s heralded name to the current phenom that is the street wear craze. And though his last show was spectacular (bringing both Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell back to the run way), the future was in question. What direction was Vuitton headed? Would they take the same pathway, perhaps even a more daring one? After all, street wear brands and the clout they awarded were now the hottest thing in the fashion industry. Would that be the route to go? Or would they bring on board a traditionalist, having already revamped their reputation, now content to return to safe and successful but slightly stale Vuitton of old? Our answer came on the morning of March 26th as an Instagram post went up, caption-less, a centered photo of a trunk covered in the most famous in the world. Virgil Abloh was announced as creative director of Louis Vuitton Men’s. For those unfamiliar with Abloh, maybe the impact of this news went unnoticed. However, this was a definitive statement that House Vuitton would not go quietly into the night, rather they would light the way themselves.

Virgil Abloh is an American designer, visual artist, musician, and (all evidence considered) a creative genius. He rose to prominence as creative director for Kanye West at the collective Donda, along with Matthew Williams (ALYX), Jerry Lorenzo (Fear of God), and many others. It was from there he founded the brand Pyrex Vision, and a few years later Off-White, which is now the one of the most coveted brands in the market today, known equally for a combination of trend setting and trend destroying most brands wouldn’t dare to try and replicate. His ongoing collaboration with Nike became the must have accessory of this year, the sneakers marked with diagram like labels: “SHOELACES”, “VULCANIZED” “FOR WALKING”, an Off-White signature. They sell out immediately, and are instantly on the secondary market for ten times their sticker price. From humble beginning in the mid-west, now he was the first black person of any nationality to run the men’s side of one of the most esteemed luxury brands on the planet. His is a story of triumph.

Which brought us to the morning of June 21, 2018, in the garden of the Jardin du Palais -Royal, where history was made.  The theme of the show was “color as a metaphor”, and colorful it was. The crowd gathered, all given a bold colored commemorative t-shirt with the color coordinated to their assigned seating section. The who’s who of fashion and pop cultural mingled as the hip hop sound track rang out in the French sun. Ian Connor sat on an end seat, his seemingly ever constant pile of brand name duffel bags next to him on the floor. There was Kim and Kylie and Kendell and Kanye. There was Kim Jones. ASAP Rocky, Naomi Campbell, Travis Scott all present. It was a lesson in extravagance done in the coolest way possible. On at outdoor runway made of all the colors of the rainbow, with hedges seemingly stretched beyond the sky, the future began to march. Color was more than a metaphor, it was the prominent theme as bright and bold shades moved in groups. It should also be recognized that the show included 17 black models, something almost unheard of on the traditionally whitewashed runway circles. Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti and a slew of other artists all walked in the show. Street wear’s current obsession with pockets and pouches was evident in several pieces, including the neon vests many looks had involved. The trendy cross body bag was everywhere. The muted tones of gray and beige that have dominated the runway the last few years were present, but seldom. Instead, vibrancy was the name of the game. There were LV classics still recognizable, but Abloh’s take on their look was new and noticeable: the trunk, logo-less and matte black. The large weekend duffel, this time seen both in clear plastic blue and a rainbow reflecting metallic silver. Brass chains replaced with ones of matte ceramic. The cut of pants and jackets in both suit form and active wear were unique and bold but not outlandish as many feared Abloh would do. They were flowing. They looked breezy and fun and ever as bit as luxurious as the namesake entails. A stand out theme that kept showing up was the Wizard of Oz, showing up in incredible sweaters depicting the main character’s iconic walk down the yellow brick road, perhaps itself a metaphor for Abloh, the messenger from the street fashion universe finally reaching the Emerald City and ripping back the curtain. All and all, it simply looked different from LV of the past, but at the same time maintaining the look of hyper fashion and luxury the brand is renowned for.

As the show closed, Abloh walked out to an ovation, first with his hand over his head in thanks and then over his face in realization. The kid from Illinois, who had first ventured to Paris nearly a decade ago with Kanye West and crew, was given the chance to do the impossible and did so in stunning fashion. He quickly and purposefully moved a half way down his rainbow road, to the man sitting dead center…West himself. The tear-filled embrace said it all.  The future was here, and it is colorful as hell.

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