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To sum up Virgil Abloh is an assignment not fit for now, or likely ever. Both those that knew him or had never met him could recognize, at the very least, his impact on culture. It was, after all, exactly how he intended it to be—a domino effect, a pay-it-forward play, a collaborative mark on the world of design, fashion, architecture, art, music, and more.
The world was shocked and saddened to learn last Sunday of his sudden passing at the age 41, having privately battled cancer for the past few years. It's impossible to process how something so tragic could happen to someone with so much magic, candor, and kindness at the center of his everyday.
Among so many plans he'd made for the future was a monumental Louis Vuitton Men's show in Miami this week. The event on Tuesday, meant to be a celebration of fashion, was transformed into a celebration of life and a life's work, where guests gathered on the water’s edge of Miami Marine Stadium for Abloh's final show as the men’s creative director of Louis Vuitton.
The “7.2” show, marking his seventh show at the house, was set to be Abloh’s homecoming on American soil—his first show outside of Paris at the luxury maison. It was also shown in tandem with the opening of the second standalone Louis Vuitton men’s boutique in the world, second to Tokyo. But it was known to his family and colleagues that he would not be in attendance due to his health, so his dedicated team of designers and staff executed each and every detail on his behalf.
In the early afternoon, guests gathered at Yacht Haven Grande Miami at Island Gardens to board boats for an excursion to the venue. At the waterfront, superyachts and smaller private boats lined the marina, with “LV” flags waving in the wind and teal “LV” decals stuck to their sides. After a cruise through Biscayne Bay, they arrived at the Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key, a dilapidated sports pavilion once used to host crowds during powerboat races.
Stadium seating was awash in rainbow hues of light, sitting before a stage for Abloh's runway show dotted with trees, and benches adorned with the house’s iconic emblems and hand-painted yin-yang symbols. Across the way, a red hot air balloon with white “LV” lettering floated in the sky, as did a larger-than-life statue of Abloh himself.
The collection’s theme was centered around the idea of taking flight, underscored by the boyhood joy Abloh had spoken about throughout the course of his career. The simplicity of children’s play in this arena—from building paper planes and blowing up balloons, to spreading one's arms to create hypothetical wings—is what propelled the Spring/Summer 2022 collection. As the sun set, and a giant steel paper plane anchored the set’s center, guests took their seats. Once they did, it was silent.
Michael Burke, Louis Vuitton's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, then spoke, elaborating on Abloh’s vision and his emphasis on “coming of age” over the years.
“Based around the traditional ‘coming of age’ narrative, of course, being Virgil, he spun and re-contextualized the concept for the 21st century,” said Burke. “In doing so, expressing his own unique talent and vision. This idea of ‘coming of age’ was important to Virgil because inspiring and empowering younger generations defined who he was. He used the platform he had to break boundaries and open doors, to shed light on his creative passions—art, design, music, and of course, fashion, so that everybody could see inside. Not only to dream of being part of that world, but also to find ways to make that dream a reality. Virgil showed them the way.”
Burke continued, letting us know he first met Abloh 15 years ago in Tokyo through Nigo by way of Kanye West. Subsequently, he invited both Abloh and West to Rome for an internship at Fendi, noting Abloh was a quiet man who spent most of his time observing. “I now realize that he was using the opportunity to disseminate his beautiful mind, to exercise his empathy and his deep connection to people, and to transform these experiences into endless possibilities that would ultimately transcend fashion, or even luxury. When the time came, Virgil was not looking for the limelight, but the limelight found him.”
That very limelight guided the show from beginning to end, with Abloh’s spirit ever-present with each look passed by. Friends in the front row—like Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, LVMH’s Arnault family, and Futura—watched others walk in the show, including Offset and Abloh’s close confidant and past collaborator, Kid Cudi.
The show, like nearly all of Abloh’s past, was a cross-pollination of cultural references and ideologies that stretch beyond time and place, people and planet. References in Abloh’s collection notes touched upon music references from 1969 in Washington, D.C. to explain why “Amen Break” appeared on certain pieces; and dance sub-genres from Detroit and Chicago during the 1980s related to a running rave man motif appearing on others. There were also allusions to martial arts, the illusion of polar opposites, the cultural symbol of the Nike Air Force 1, chess, and more.
As the show progressed, bright pops of color punctuated the collection, dotted by crocheted, embroidered, padded, and airbrushed garments. Chequers, native to chess, took a nod in the collection, too, with prints interpreted throughout in various textures for three-dimensional or trompe l’oeil effects. Neon monochrome outfits were adorned with cowboy belt buckles, hockey gloves, harnesses with pouchettes, hats, earwarmers, capes, sunglasses, and jewelry that dived deep into rave culture references around the world.
Accessories, per usual, were a high note. Shoes—from Chelsea boots and Oxfords to cowboy boots and a special Nike Air Force 1 trainer—featured 3-D printed flower monogrammed heels, multicolored rubber detailing, and contrasting soles. Bags ranged from sporty styles to DIY pouchettes, landscape bags made from recycled materials, to glittered bags including a dog carrier, a collar, and a leash.
Special for Spring/Summer 2022, Abloh teamed up with the New York-based visual artist Jim Joe on a ready-to-wear and bag collaboration, including two white suits, a black suit, and a full-body knit morph suit, as well as a unique white bag with a chequer pattern made with black ink. Abloh also collaborated with Metalheadz on jackets and skirts, featuring the record label’s branding that’s evocative of rave parties during the 1990s.
For the finale, guests watched each look pass by once more in order, and at the end, Abloh’s voice filled the stadium. “There is no limit,” he said. “Life is so short that you can't waste even a day subscribing to what someone thinks you can do versus knowing what you can do.”
In his place, Abloh’s design team took to the runway to give his final bow for him, full of emotion and grace. Above, a firework display boomed in flashes of red. For the after party, which followed as more a rave than a somber remembrance event, thousands of people gathered in front of a concert stage wrapped in a black-and-white checkered pattern to watch a live band, Kid Cudi, and Erykah Badu perform for hours into the night. And high in the sky, a ballet of drones orchestrated by Studio Drift danced between clouds for an aerial display to spell out "Virgil Was Here."
In line with Abloh’s dedication for future generations, Louis Vuitton donated 100 dollars per guest to its longstanding organization of choice, Unicef. Additionally, a contribution was made to the Reimagine Education and Generation Unlimited initiatives in Ghana.
There is no doubt Abloh’s powerful legacy will shape the folds of culture—his creativity will underpin countless industries, movements, and moments to come, thanks to his pure love for the people who shape our world, now and next.