PARIS, France — Virgil Abloh’s currently inviolable position as the streetwear messiah means his every word, thought and deed have a spokesman-of-his-generation weight. “I’m a bit older than I can claim proper youth,” he would say, but tell that to the hordes of kids who queue patiently for all his public appearances and drops of clothing. Anyway, when he called his new men’s collection “Business Casual”, you had to pause to wonder what previously untapped interest he may have detected in his tribe of followers. Perhaps it was something as fundamental as the world of besuited businessmen looking exotic to young skaters, ravers and wannabe rappers. I thought the same thing a few seasons ago when Demna Gvasalia built a Balenciaga collection around the salarymen he saw streaming into Kering’s headquarters. Also made me think of the competitive ball culture in the 90s, when something like “business casual” could have been a category. It’s all drag.
In Abloh’s world, the barest necessity is an open mind. In high school, he should have been listening to rap like everyone else. Instead, he was listening to Weezer. “Only in Dreams” was on his soundtrack on Wednesday morning. “Music changed my perception,” Abloh said after the show. “I’m reliving my high school years.” He relishes the same openmindedness in youth now, the culturally curious suits, lawyers and CEO’s of tomorrow. “I wanted to tell that story,” he said. “What does the future of business attire look like?”
It looked like a grey flannel pinstripe suit, with an Off-White “business casual” ID, worn with a sweatshirt skewed sideways. Or a double-breasted suit with a painted shadow lapel (always the echo of Abloh’s main man Martin Margiela). Or, at a pinch, another suit in brown leather. Or the uniforms of a delivery man and a warehouseman. (They need business attire, after all.) And then there was weekend wear: a polo shirt, also dragged on the bias, a multi-pocketed combo that might suit a flyfishin’ hobbyist…etc, etc.
What stood out was the relentless basic normalcy of the clothes, however much they were twisted. And this is what the world has gone gaga for? The scarf labelled SCARF? Took me back to 1984’s “Repo Man”, Alex Cox’s genius punk takedown of generic pop culture. Thing is, aside from an open mind, Abloh’s other greatest asset is his gift of the gab. “We’re going to create the future,” he said of himself and his optimistic — so he claimed — young constituency. “Hopefulness is embedded.”
Utterly laudable, and necessary. But his presentation could be viewed through another, much more peculiar prism. The opening monologue by William Burroughs (the writer who famously managed to combine the strictest collar-and-tie business attire with an out-of-control heroin habit); the deep red of the set; the equally deep red of the finale; the soundtrack which chorused “only in dreams” and “living in a dream state”…, I’ll go anywhere for a David Lynch subtext. Abloh insists he’s an “American designer”. Well, David Lynch is a uniquely American director. What he and Abloh might possibly have in common gave another shading to the off in off-white.