Five years ago, at the age of 38, Virgil Abloh debuted his first collection for Louis Vuitton as the company's artistic director of menswear.
It was a ground-breaking collection of vibrant pieces that would go on to reinvent fashion and alter the premium market's positioning for good.
An equally vivid spring/summer '23 men's collection for the brand, which continued Abloh's heritage of originality, invention, and use of color, served as a tribute to the late designer today from his friends, colleagues, and followers.
The front row was just as star-studded as it was in 2018, when friends Bella Hadid, Kanye West, and Rihanna supported the designer as he became the first Black creative director at Vuitton and one of the most well-known Black designers in the whole fashion business. This time, a marching band opened the show, followed by the collection, and then music artist Kendrick Lamar, who was seated next to Campbell in the front row wearing a diamond-encrusted thorned wreath, gave the show's final performance. Naomi Campbell, J. Balvin, Justin Timberlake, and many other well-known figures were present in the front row this time.
Despite the fanfare, the Vuitton collection remained as captivating as ever, offering new, creative ideas that were accessible to the general public in a range of statement items that had a significant impact both on their own and when combined to create a complete outfit. The collection was created by the company's in-house studio team, which Abloh formed largely on his own during his five years working there. It was centered on the notion that toys can be used as tools for imagination, and it used a yellow runway to showcase an aesthetic that was greatly influenced by Abloh's love of '90s skater culture.
Prior to Abloh's passing in late 2021, the items themselves expanded upon some of the silhouettes he had just started to study in the collections. With some suiting styles displaying an exaggerated pleat beginning high on the thigh, pants were even more loose (in a skater way, of course). New lapels, small shoulder tweaks, and improved chest fits were added to the jackets.
The usage of the Vuitton brand's iconic monogram was explored further in both clothing and accessories, including a line of briefcases with raised, tactile, braille-like treatments. With modest below-the-knee skirts paired with suiting jackets, Abloh's investigation of gender was present but slightly more restrained this time (a look destined for artists such as Balvin, who recently sported the silhouette). There was a significant impact from small details like raw-fabric florals, sawtooth hemlines on shirts, paper aircraft designs, and flower-shaped suiting buttons.
Abloh's previous design endeavors had a stronger impact when viewed from a distance. Kanye West, the current king of the giant boot, was inexorably brought into Balenciaga's spring '23 presentation and left behind a legacy of cartoonish, molded rubber boots that were impossible to separate from the designer's long-standing creative connection with him.
A series of lace-up snow boots that were initially mistaken for other types of footwear (yes, they were part of a spring/summer collection) turned out to be snowboarding boots, a homage to Abloh's love of the activity.
The term "upcycling," which has been extended to encompass the sustainability of both ideas and materials, was also discussed in the collection. The objective? According to the presentation notes for the company, this is done in order "to de-program our thoughts from the images of obsolescence that lead to overload, overproduction, and waste."