“Is it too early?” is the question we ask ourselves as the final collection of Virgil Abloh appears only a few days after the announcement of his death. It may have been one of his last professional wishes – and in line with his furious work ethic – to end the show, yet there is a brutal ending to see it unfold before our eyes.
Emotions run high as the show, which is streamed live from Miami, opens with Abloh’s voiceover, which speaks of a return “to the wonder of childhood”, while a repeated visual motif of a red hot air balloon suggests Oz and perhaps ascent to the afterlife.
Still, if every moment of today’s men’s spring / summer 2022 show – subtitled Virgil Was Here – is backlit by the idea that he worked on the collection until the very end, then the show’s main body is very business as usual.
The shape was always changeable for Abloh, whether it was incorporating a tutu into Serena Williams’ tennis clothes or putting Timothée Chalamet in a harness on the red carpet, and this collection continues this idea. The collection is an absolute deconstruction of menswear norms: silhouettes hang, lines are blurred, and the lines between smart / casual and man / woman are blurred. A pink and white puffer jacket along with a ballerina cross and a skirt? Why not: these garments are electrifyingly futuristic.
Abloh’s work was always full of meaning, and his last two collections for Vuitton flowed like multi-ideological jazz: picked apart element by element, it felt like a dangerously collapsible stack of ideas, but when seen live, it made perfect sense. Both spring / summer 2022 and fall / winter 2021 Vuitton shows were mixtape-like riffs on black consciousness, with GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, Saul Williams and the inspiration from James Baldwin’s essays. He linked the personal (whether it was the kente cloth worn by his father or his architectural education via suits with built-in skyline dioramas) to the political in an era that existed in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter movement.
If this spring / summer 2022 collection lacks the narrative element, the clothing tells the story and reminds you that Abloh was infinitely inventive, furiously reinventing with every hat, accessory or cut of pants. As a final creative statement, it seems to be an underlining of his core values.
“I’m self-taught, explorer, and often I’m an amateur too. My career in that sense is an exploratory exploration. It’s about how to be a black thinker in white spaces; it’s about inserting the black canon into art history books, Said Abloh to Vestoj magazine in an interview published before his death. “It’s about being a black voice that means something beyond the edge. I want to be able to look back on my life and career and know that I left some lifeless objects, yes, but also a logic that changed mainstream.
In the end, today’s show is an elegy for those desires.