“I’ve been on this focus, in terms of my art and creativity, of getting adults to behave like children again,” said Virgil Abloh in a recording played at the opening of his final show for Louis Vuitton. “If they go back into this sense of wonderment, they start to stop using their mind, and they start using their imagination.”
There has been no shortage of tributes to the late designer, who died Sunday at age 41 after privately battling a rare heart cancer for over two years. But perhaps the greatest tribute to Abloh’s legacy was orchestrated by the man himself on Tuesday night, just over two days after his passing, as his Spring-Summer 2022 menswear collection was staged on Miami’s Maritime Marina.
Timed as a preamble to this year’s Art Basel, “Virgil Was Here” was a celebration of the life, career and seemingly boundless imagination of the designer, who helmed both Vuitton’s menswear and his own cult-favorite luxury label, Off-White. Opposite a red, LV-branded hot-air balloon, a massive statue of Abloh, Louis Vuitton box in hand, loomed over the star-studded crowd. In the front row, close friend and longtime collaborator Kanye “Ye” West was flanked on one side by eldest daughter North and soon-to-be-ex-wife Kim Kardashian West, while on the other sat Pharrell. Famously pictured together at Abloh’s first runway presentation for Vuitton in 2018, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky returned to honor Abloh’s final walk, as did Erykah Badu, Luka Sabbat, rappers Lil Baby, 21 Savage and Gunna, producer Metroboomin, Denim Tears designer Tremaine Emory, and many more.
As reported by British Vogue, Louis Vuitton’s CEO Michael Burke opened the event with an emotional speech, explaining:
“The deeply moving show we are about to see is born out of an idea Virgil and I first discussed three years ago. It is based around the traditional coming-of-age narrative, but of course, being Virgil, he spun and re-contextualized the concept for the 21st century, and in doing so expressed his own unique talents 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, to 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 to also find ways to make that dream a reality.”
The celebrity guests weren’t only in the front row of Abloh’s final show. Among the models emerging from beneath an ebony structure modeled after a paper plane to walk a runway planted with birch trees were Migos members Quavo and Offset. Kid Cudi, who also performed at the afterparty, matched his hair to the lime green ensemble he wore to walk in the show—which appropriately included a skirt.
Like many of Abloh’s collections for Vuitton, his final one, which largely included designs first seen this June in Paris during Men’s Fashion Week, was full of whimsy, pop culture references and boundary-pushing. That included unexpected mixes of winter accessories and outerwear with warm-weather silhouettes, proving Abloh a man for all seasons.
“I feel like I’m writing a book with these collections. It’s one continuous logic about diversity and design,” he explained to Vogue at the time. “And it’s now synced up with my true thoughts about culture.
“I’ve started to let my imagination run wild,” he continued. “I try to create the world as I would like to see it in real life. Having something that’s pop culture and fashion, that’s an education and maybe opens minds. To me, that’s the North Star.”
As Vogue notes, Abloh also seemed to wink at the multiple accusations of plagiarism he faced during his too-brief career. Several of this collection’s garments even evoked his own first collection for the house as he sent candy-colored ombré and tie-dyes down the runway alongside Vuitton’s famed Damier checkerboard pattern, a possible nod to that presentation and its prismatic runway.
More from Vogue:
Questioning designers about where their inspirations come from is a typical fashion-editor gambit, while who copied who is the accusatory game of the internet. This time Abloh essentially took that on and checkmated it with his knowledge of Black music’s revolutionary creative methods of sampling: of how hip-hop and jungle evolved into rave through subcultures, countries, and time until the genius of the provenance is all simultaneously embedded, normalized, and erased in the mainstream. That’s where the vast Black cultural global fashion influence of tracksuits and sneakers comes from—uncredited. And it’s where, at the very top of the menswear establishment, it faces off with the in-the-know formalities surrounding the sartorial canon of the suit. “When it comes to the nuance of Black culture and design, how does it show up? How does that become canonized? I stand in a very privileged position to be able to educate on that.”
You can view Virgil Abloh’s final bow at Vuitton for yourself below, but the recorded closing remarks from the designer will be ours, as well:
“There’s no limit. 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.”
Rest in power, Virgil Abloh. #VirgilWasHere