“I've been trying to make you love me. But everything I try, just takes you further from me.”
These are the words Kid Cudi repeatedly croons as the hook for Kanye West's latest infectious track, “GHOST TOWN,” a four-and-a-half-paean to reconciling child-like wonder with the demands of adult responsibility. As the weight of the world bears down even more on your shoulders, it becomes increasingly hard to remind yourself why you've chosen to pursue a particular career path.
For Virgil Abloh, the polarizing creative whose oeuvre spans several generations of streetwear, architecture, and even a furniture collection, his arrival at Louis Vuitton is a culmination and closed circle of streeetwear's original intention: creating clothing that spoke to an audience of people who appreciate fashion and luxury, but often feel left out of the conversation.
Throughout his career, all he's wanted is to legitimize the homegrown movement of graphic-driven apparel and subversive style codes as a valid expression of design intent. In the same manner his mentor Kanye West espouses a humble, broad premise of improving the world through design, Abloh's thesis is more specific. He wants to redefine what luxury and streetwear are, which he literally did in his show notes for his debut collection with Louis Vuitton.
A guide called “The Vocabulary of Virgil Abloh” was included in an envelope, wherein he introduces terms like “Margielaism,” which he defines as “a term applied to garments or accessories which reflect the normative fashion religion of a reverent generation of young or younger designers to which Virgil Abloh belongs.” He also defines “luxury” as “a label determined by values, codes, and qualities,” adding that “its use and definition were the privilege of few until a new generation conquered its dominion and shifted the paradigm for good.”
Further, he defines “streetwear” as “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.”
Abloh titled his first collection as Louis Vuitton's Men's Artistic Director “We Are The World,” based around the idea of travel and interconnectivity filtered through a fashion house whose provenance comes from hard-wearing monogrammed luggage. Its audience and meaning has grown more diverse, and Abloh understands that while the house's old audience skewed towards the rich, monied, and primarily white—that “LV” logo holds much more power in the eyes of the fashion world's aspirants: black, yellow, and brown kids who have elevated it to an overarching status symbol, and wanting to be successful enough to buy its wares at retail price is a dream worth chasing.
This diversity is not only reflected in the casting, using 56 different models of varying ethnicities, but also different creative backgrounds. Skate culture gets its due through Blondey McCoy, and Lucien Clarke, the art world is included through Lucien Smith, and hip-hop artists Kid Cudi and Playboi Carti also walked the show—the latter providing the final look, a silver leather poncho emblazoned with patches referencing Louis Vuitton and The Wizard of Oz.
The latter is an especially important theme in this collection. The story of a Midwestern girl thrust into a fantasy world where the way back home is seemingly laid out for her, only to overcome a variety of obstacles along the way. In the process, she discovers this world's masters are as human and vulnerable as she is. The wizard is nothing but a man given the right tools and platform to appear powerful. What a fitting analogy for how streetwear has usurped fashion's old guard.
As the show ended, models traversed the multi-colored runway for the finale, a gradient yellow-brick road taking us all to Oz, a paradise Virgil Abloh had just remade for a new generation. Behind the seats, Abloh had invited students from local art and design schools to see the show, and gave them T-shirts color-coordinated to the sections they were standing it. The message was clear: If I can do this, you can do it too.
Then, in an emotional moment set to an instrumental version of “GHOST TOWN” provided by Toronto music group BADBADNOTGOOD under the supervision of Louis Vuitton's recently-appointed music director Benji B, Abloh stepped out and took his bow. In the old world, it's common for new designers to hug a figure like Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, as a way of showing their gratitude for giving them a chance like this. What spoke volumes is that Abloh chose to embrace Kanye West, signifying something more profound altogether.
Abloh (and much of the audience) broke down in tears. The moment had become bigger than them. It was proof that kids from the South Side of Chicago, council houses in London, and Parisian banlieues could land on the moon if they wanted to.
Now the question is: Where do we go from here? Street culture has gone from aspiring to high fashion to becoming its driving force. This Paris Fashion Week alone proved that casual sportswear, hip-hop, and streetwear are the status quo. For a culture founded in subversion, what's so renegade about becoming the establishment?
The answer may be unclear, but one thing remains as true as ever. Street culture will only be as strong as the community ties it was built on. The term “collaboration” no longer has to be a marketing term for two brands slapping their names together, but real partnerships from people of different backgrounds and disciplines creating something much greater, that now resonates with an audience all over the world.
If anything, Abloh's ascent marks a shift from fashion as an industry to fashion as an ecosystem. It galvanizes the fact that you should support your friends, support your local community, because together there is the potential to become something more than any one individual is capable of dreaming of.
It's no surprise that shortly after his show, Abloh visited Heron Preston's presentation in the Marais, congratulating his friend on his recent collection. The kids who dreamed are now the adults making the rules. And the first rule of the new establishment is: Never forget where you came from.