Miami, FL – Virgil Abloh’s final show for Louis Vuitton is a lesson in freedom. Both literally and through design, Abloh asks us to “behave like children again.” More than that, he shares the result of creativity born from this place. And only two days after his passing, we get to reflect on a career that embodies this ethos and infiltrates every corner of fashion and culture.
At the close of the show, Abloh’s voice set against a silent and dark audience, lit only by the flame of a hovering red LV hot air balloon, “There’s no limit.” And with the rise of rainbow hued flood lights, “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.”
It’s a message we hear often, but one that rarely lands. This time it does. Whether it’s his close collaborators and friends that shared comforting hugs in the front row or the 16 year-old kid watching from home — the kid that Virgil repeatedly said he designed for — Virgil’s reach is layered and expansive.
As Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke shared in opening remarks, the details and thoughtfulness that structured the show all came from Virgil’s mind. And in perhaps the most tasteful way possible, Virgil’s mind overtook Miami.
Guests were transported in LV branded boats to a stage buildout floating adjacent to the Miami Marine Bay Stadium, a historical landmark. Here, happy rows of birch trees lined LV monogrammed benches. And on the benches, the LV monogram welcomed carefully spaced yin and yang symbols.
Throughout, the theme of flight was inescapable. But not just any flight — the type of flight a kid imagines. Invitations contained origami inspired instructions to create a paper plane, a motif that was stamped on the set design. And, of course, the hot air balloon floated peacefully beside the runway and stadium.
All of this energy combined to present Virgil Abloh’s Spring 2022 Louis Vuitton collection. The collection gives the impression that Virgil said yes to every color that entered his mind. And if we let our own minds open, the garments provide — extremely lux, expertly cut, well-referenced — options for a child’s dress up arsenal.
There’s a green slime monster or maybe The Riddler, an intergalactic tin man, a suit in case we happen to find ourselves at tea with the Mad Hatter, powder white coats that look like they were cut by gigantic versions of those squiggly edged scissors, protective padding for martial arts expeditions. And, the ultimate voluminous, pink and white tie-dye, puffer version of anyone’s fairytale dress.
Yet the expanse of Virgil’s mind and how it touched Miami doesn’t stop there. Even before the show started, Virgil Abloh showcased a side of the city that rarely sees the light of day, free from neon lights and bottle service. In a teaser video for Virgil Was Here, we see a young kid biking through Miami’s more mundane but beautiful backdrops. To someone who grew up here, the thrill of biking down a parking lot ramp feels familiar.
Art Basel takes over Miami for one week — a very loud week, where, for much of the creative world, Miami becomes only an idea of million dollar artworks and high gloss events. Virgil’s direction instead points our attention elsewhere, reminding us that Miami is so much more once the high rollers leave. It’s Miami seen through the eyes of a free, normal kid on a bike.
And this is the power of Virgil. Almost anyone can look at his work and see the value, undeniable by measure of pure sales force. But there are perhaps even more of us who witness the work and whether we like the garments or not, feel it and feel seen. And we’re not just feeling seen by anything. For the first time for many of us, we’re seen in the context of luxury, the long standing gatekeeper of worthinesss.
“Ultimately, the consumer is more important than the gatekeeper: that’s why streetwear has become so popular even in high fashion… There are so many consumers who know what’s happening in high fashion, but high fashion looks down on them for not being worthy” – Excerpt from Abloh-isms. Vestoj, 2018.
The kid on a bike eventually makes it to the Louis Vuitton hot air balloon that will take them somewhere else. Only a few years ago, this luxury passageway represented elitism, classism, and even racism. That’s what luxury told us to strive for. Abloh’s approach to luxury was more all encompassing and non-dualistic, designing for both the “tourist (newcomer to art elitism)” and the “purist (seasoned elitist),” as he explained to Flash Art in 2020.
Post-Virgil, the hot air balloon is different: a homecoming. The image of luxury we now strive for can be ourselves — a real representation of where we come from, regardless of what that looks like. Abloh accomplished this through an ethos of designing for a younger self.
“I’m not looking towards a new demographic. I’m looking towards the demographic I came from.” Excerpt from Abloh-isms. Esquire, 2017.
With this mindset, Virgil ushered in popular luxury, establishing that luxury is not just for a select few but for all people of the time. Undoubtedly, we don’t yet fully understand how Virgil’s vision shifted the fashion industry and society at large. But seeing many of Virgil’s fashion contemporaries at the show tonight and knowing there were even more people watching from home, it was clear that creative leaders are in place to safeguard the energy Virgil brought into the world.
Although this won’t be easy, Virgil Abloh left us all a blueprint, a way to grow beyond what luxury can offer. It’s that in trusting ourselves, we can determine and establish our value. This is so powerful that not only is it free of institutionalized norms, it can rewrite them. He also left us the promise of a new generation that will only know fashion and culture post-Virgil.