In July of last year, Virgil Abloh brought Off-White back to the Paris runway after a year of pandemic-induced digital presentations. The show, though, was held not during the weeks where ready to wear collections are generally presented, but rather at the top of the Paris Haute Couture schedule. The message was as clear (or at least as bold) as Off-White’s infamous quotation-marked branding: that Abloh’s boundary-busting upstart label wasn’t such an upstart anymore. It was an artisanal luxury brand of the highest order, and deserved to be mentioned in the same breath as Louis Vuitton, where Abloh served as men’s artistic director. As Abloh put it at the time, he wanted Off-White to be more “adult.”
On Monday night, Off-White held its first show since Abloh’s death at the age of 41 in late November. The Fall-Winter 2022 collection is reportedly the final one Abloh oversaw for the brand, and though the question of who—or what group of people—might take over the brand going forward remains unanswered, the presentation provided a strong indication of what Off- White will look like in the post-Abloh era.
The show, titled Spaceship Earth, an “Imaginary Experience,” was held in two parts, with the first featuring men’s tailoring that looked about as “adult” as anything Abloh has ever shown: one model wore a moody, monochromatic black blazer, skirt, trousers, and lace-up derbies, part of a new collaboration Off-White unveiled with Church’s, the thinking man’s heritage dress shoe brand. What’s more adult than retiring your thrashed Off-White x Nike Air Maxes for a pair of benchmade brogues? Several models held white flags that bore a classic Abloh-ism, “QUESTION EVERYTHING,” which was the show’s most overt tribute—and its most prominent branding.
Besides a few bags which bore tiny Off-White badges, the collection’s message was in its clean proportions. Abloh’s tailoring at Vuitton was maximalist and complex; at Off-White, the way forward appears to be in classicism. A three-button herringbone topcoat and beautiful brown gingham belted blazer looked so simple and refined one could imagine a white-haired Loro Piana client sneaking into an Off-White boutique to try them on. (Before promptly removing the bright blue leather sleeve label.) Even the technical outerwear, like several bulbous down ski jackets in muted tones, were constructed with sleek suiting canvas. A few tartan shirt-skirt-trouser sets, on the other hand, were made with technical wool. Abloh explored a fascination with elegant, fluid tailoring in his final years, calling for a “human” approach to dressing rather than one defined by gender. Whether or not he oversaw the design of these sets, he deserves credit for making the men’s sartorial skirt feel about as practical and intriguing as just about any designer.
The Off-White team saved the fireworks for the second half of the show. After the first wave of models—which included Abloh’s friends Serena Williams, rapper Jim Jones, and skater Ishod Wair—cleared the round, white space, R&B iconoclast and former Hood By Air creative director Ian Isiah waltzed to the center of the stage in a sexed-up black velvet tuxedo, lit a joint, and ushered in the first official collection of Off-White haute couture (or ‘haute couture,’ per the show notes). As Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills played house music, some 30 models—including Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, the Hadid sisters, and a guy wearing a huge velvet fringe ghillie suit—proceeded to vamp and pose around the room in tulle skirts and ballgowns. Abloh began designing the collection in the months after he first crashed the Haute Couture schedule, and each look was named to represent a type of woman. Some, like The Bride, The Businesswoman, and The Diva, are familiar archetypes in Parisian ateliers. Others snuck in the door with Abloh: there’s The Skater, wearing an oversized varsity jacket over a tulle skirt, The Soccer Player, wearing a crystal-embroidered soccer tank and booty shorts, and even The Stripper, wearing a black satin brasserie over a vintage tie-dye Grateful Dead T-shirt. It might be the first time a Grateful Dead tee has ever been worn with a couture creation, and it has Abloh’s fingerprints all over it, who peppered collections with “readymade” subcultural references.