When Chris Brown and Gunna fired up spliffs in the front row at the Yohji Yamamoto show last Thursday, it was a sure signal that fashion had crossed into new territory. The outlines of the landscape we’ve now entered are starkly unlike the one that came before in ways that are as much attitudinal as demographic. Fashion can’t afford anymore to be precious or exclusionary. Instagram unlatched the gate to a once largely closed realm, and the world rushed in.
“There’s that incense again,” Ben Cobb, the editor-in-chief of Another Man magazine, said as he settled into a front-row seat earlier that afternoon for Virgil Abloh’s sophomore show as artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton. He was referring to the skunky odor of vaped weed.
“I’m so high right now,” Cobb added. He meant contact high, to be clear.
The whole industry seems a bit buzzed right now, with designers as disparate as Abloh at Vuitton men’s and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino seeming to quote from the same cheat sheet during backstage interviews, spouting a gospel of an inclusivity that has been too long in coming. And then there was Demna Gvasalia, frankly referencing in his new Vetements collection the sinister aspects of the dark web.
The week’s tentpole event, Abloh’s show for Vuitton, was held in a graffiti-covered tent erected in the Tuileries gardens. Outside, mobs of teenagers chased after celebrity arrivals like Frank Ocean, Offset, Timothée Chalamet and Kid Cudi as French soldiers in camouflage gear patrolled the park with automatic weapons clutched to their chests. This is the new abnormal.
The Vuitton show was presented on a set replicating the Alphabet City backdrop of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video, and Jackson was the stated inspiration for the collection. “Michael Jackson was the most important person in innovating menswear ever,” Abloh said in an interview before the show.
This is true as far as it goes. Before self-invention devolved into dysmorphic disorder, Jackson showed himself to be an image innovator and yet always one whose presentation was based on a canny study of stagecraft and style. It is well-established that practically every element of the image we associate with him — from the glittering military regalia he loved to his white socks and high-water trousers — was either derivative or outright borrowed, to put it politely.
Despite having used a rhinestone-studded white glove for the Vuitton show’s invitation, Abloh’s objective, he said, was never to replicate the costumed Jackson but to use a deconstructed icon as a point of departure. And, in a way, what Abloh was doing to his idol’s image replicated something that appears to be happening to the fashion industry as a whole: breaking it up to sell the parts.
Thus, there were military cuffs on an admiral’s trench coat and, on a bomber jacket, painted cartoon motifs adapted from “The Wiz.” There were the expected exotic skins and luxurious fabrications because this, after all, is a house built on luggage and accessories.
But there was also a doubling-down on sophisticatedly layered gray suiting, skirt-trousers perhaps too closely reminiscent of those produced by Jun Takahashi at Undercover and elegantly detailed blazers to counter the knock on Abloh that he is best sticking to graphics and hoodies.
And there were the collectors’ items that, in a world of drops and sniping bots, increasingly drive sales at global brands. Yes, the oversize quilted puffer vests looked way too unwieldy to be worn in real life. That may be beside the point. As with Abloh’s best-selling $3,850 transparent Prism Keepall, produced and sold as part of a weeklong Vuitton “residency” this month inside the Chrome Hearts store in New York, function is an afterthought, the lesser part of the equation. “People don’t actually put anything inside the duffels,” Jian DeLeon, the editorial director of Highsnobiety, said after the show. “They just carry them empty.”