Off-White, founded by the tastemaker Virgil Abloh – who is also the designer of Louis Vuitton menswear – is one of the most hyped labels in fashion. At the autumn/winter 2020 show in Paris on Wednesday morning, though, audience members had to wait for the first sighting of the items set to get a lot of play on Instagram next season. The show instead began with sound: that of a lone tapdancer’s shoes.
Cartier Williams, a tap veteran who danced at the White House for Bill Clinton, continued to perform in a spotlight as models began to populate the space in the basement of a shopping mall. It was part fashion show, part Broadway show – an unusual combination that, once again, showed Abloh’s knack for creating social media gold as well as designing clothes.
The clothes spoke to a shift in the designer’s outlook. In December, the streetwear pioneer who put hoodies, caps and sneakers on the catwalk to great success declared that the category’s “time will be up” in the 2020s. This collection was duly smartened up, with a selection of suits both in blacks and greys, and colours including a bright red and a green. Other nods to a working wardrobe included a classic trench and bags that would easily house the laptops and gym kits accompanying office workers on their daily commute, while knitwear including ponchos and crocheted sweaters had a more homespun feel.
Abloh is no fool, however – he has worked hard to develop a customer base and is keen to retain it. Streetwear classics including a hoody and a cap were included, and the collaboration with the Swiss artist Pascal Möhlmann on playful prints that featured a “caution, wet floor” sign – not to mention Williams’ T-shirt, reading “I support young black businesses” – will appeal to a loyal young following who make statements with their clothing, often on social media.
This is the first Off-White show since September, when Abloh – who also moonlights as a DJ and collaborates on sell-out items with brands ranging from Nike to Ikea – announced he would be taking some time off. The designer was not present at his show in late September under doctor’s orders. “Ultimately, everything is fine,” he said at the time, “but the doctor told me: ‘This pace that you’ve sort of pushed your body – to fly all these miles, do all these different projects – is not good for your health.’”
January, though, seemed to be a return to business as usual, as the polymath added another string to his bow: that of performer. At the end of the show in Paris, models formed a mise en scène under the chandelier in the centre of the room, with Abloh – wearing sunglasses – emerging into the spotlight for his bow. It’s perhaps only fitting for someone who, just like a pop star, draws crowds of devotees outside his show, eager for a glimpse of their idol.
This show is only part of Abloh’s impressive creative output. In this year alone, he has launched collaborations with Evian and Patek Philippe. He has also made furniture for an exhibition at the Paris design studio Galerie kreo, which opened the night before this catwalk show.
These multiple projects mean Abloh is frequently referred to as a renaissance man – so a collaboration with the Louvre for the museum’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition feels particularly apt. Off-White have produced a range of merchandising for the shop. Speaking about the collaboration, Abloh acknowledged that Da Vinci – who both contributed to the invention of the helicopter and painted The Last Supper – set the template for polymaths like him. “It’s a crucial part of my overall body of work to prove … that creativity does not have to be tied to just one discipline,” said Abloh. “I think that Leonardo da Vinci was maybe the first artist to live by that principle, and I am trying to as well.”