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“There’s only one.”
Those were the words written on the Michael Jackson-style bejeweled white cotton glove that doubled as the show invite for Virgil Abloh’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection for Louis Vuitton. The “one,” of course, referenced the single glove worn by Jackson during some of the late singer’s most memorable performances. But more than a simple item of clothing, Abloh was referring to Jackson’s global status as the King of Pop.
Editors speaking before the show agreed that it felt odd, wrong even, to pay homage to a controversial figure who spent a large part of his adult life plagued by claims of child molestation among other disputes — especially in the era of #MeToo and against a backdrop of resurfaced claims against R&B star R. Kelly.
The controversial decision to choose Jackson as the collection's inspiration wasn't explained in detail by Abloh, who instead focused on the singer’s mesmerizing sense of theater, his impressive philanthropic work, and his overall ability to unify fans around the world. After all, Jackson remains a culturally indefinable phenomenon heralded for his revolutionary ability to effortlessly cross-pollinate music, dance, and fashion.
Since shooting to fame as a child in The Jackson 5, the preternaturally gifted singer was in the spotlight. He matured in front of the world, from boyhood to adulthood, and through Louis Vuitton, Abloh decided to cover it all.
From the show’s set, a replica of the video for Jackson’s 1983 hit "Billie Jean" complete with graffiti artists Futura, Lewy, and Jim Joe live at work, to the Dev Hynes-written and performed track "You Know What’s Good," which had hints of Jackson’s "Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’" about it (Hynes admitted backstage that he wrote the show’s soundtrack in the last 48 hours), references to Jackson could be found everywhere.
Yes, there were the obvious ones. Numerous models rocked black loafers styled with white, crystal-embroidered socks. There were open white silk shirts, shiny embellished gloves, and a purple silk crepe military jacket and matching trousers sported by model Alton Mason, who danced down the runway. Elsewhere was Jackson’s trademark hat and a red cafe racer jacket in suede leather inspired by the iconic red leather jacket Jackson wore for the "Thriller" video.
But it went deeper than that. Influences were hidden. Scarves covering the faces of models resembled Jackson’s decision to cover the faces of his kids to protect them from unwanted media attention. Iconography of a world globe on a stone gray, crystal-embellished sweatshirt was a tribute to Jackson’s "Earth Song."
And there were also hoodies, shirts, knitwear, trousers, and hats featuring cartoon figures from 1978 musical The Wiz, an all-black take on The Wizard of Oz starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. Of course, this was a subtle reference to Abloh’s Oz-themed Louis Vuitton debut collection for Spring/Summer 2019.
There were a number of sophisticated gray looks opening the show: pleated skirts for men, as worn by Jackson in his "Remember the Time" video; sneakers that lit up in the dark; plenty of American iconography, including the American flag printed on denim trench coats, shirts, and skirts; and exaggerated military and police badges attached to large wool puffers.
Let’s not forget the exceptional monogram-logoed utility vest, complete with exaggerated pockets. Abloh calls it “Accessomorphosis,” which sees an accessory transform into a garment, effectively evolving its functional form.
It sure wasn’t streetwear as we know it. Rather it was streetwear in the context Abloh described in his show notes: “A predictable clothing genre in a renegade designer’s debut collection as part of the fashion establishment, but one whose sportswear properties are undergoing a critical transformation into luxury.”
Exact definitions aside, the show got everyone extremely excited, including an impressive roster of celebrity attendees that included musicians Mos Def, Kid Cudi, Gunna, Offset, Kris Wu, J Balvin, Frank Ocean, and Skepta; actors Timothée Chalamet and Joel Edgerton; models Natalia Vodianova, Naomi Campbell, and Giedre Dukauskaite; designers Kris Van Assche, Samuel Ross, and Jerry Lorenzo; and other industry insiders such as Don C, Juergen Teller, Takashi Murakami, and Ben Gorham.
They’re all part of Abloh’s inner circle. More than just great clothing, Abloh has created clothing that serves as an "in-the-know" status symbol, giving consumers the feeling they're part of that influential global in-crowd. It’s the new luxury consumer Abloh reaches, and Louis Vuitton knows to follow his lead.
Earlier this week, Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke said that in the first 48 hours of Louis Vuitton’s Tokyo pop-up, Abloh’s debut SS19 collection was outselling FW17's uber-hyped Louis Vuitton x Supreme capsule collection by 30 percent. Love him or hate him, that's an impressive testament to Abloh’s power as a communicator within the sphere of global youth culture.
Today, on the most intimidating men’s fashion stage on Earth and with some of the world’s most influential people in attendance, the designer yet again proved "there's only one” Virgil Abloh.