Wish U Were Here is a feature in which a correspondent sends us an email postcard from somewhere in the world, answering Who? What? When? Where? How? And Why? In this edition, 032c’s Bianca Heuser visits the Off-White SS-17 menswear presentation during Paris Fashion Week.
Virgil Abloh presented the Off-White SS-17 men’s collection on 31 models whose attitudes made them appear like an exceptionally big and stylish skate crew. While Off-White’s designs are deeply rooted in the idea of the contemporary, its vision of community is utopian. Accordingly, he collaborated on a few looks with the Los Angeles-based artist and friend Brendan Fowler (pictured above with Abloh), adorning jackets, hoodies, and organza tees with prints of works from his “crash piece series.” They had been introduced by their shared collaborator Cali Thornhill DeWitt a few years back. After Fowler spent the last eight years hidden out in his studio, more recent projects like his clothing line Election Reform! and Some Ware, a recurring party and record label, have brought him back into “a heavy collaborative zone.” Of his experience with Off-White he says: “Virgil’s style of working is super collaborative and squad related, and it was really epic to jump full on into his world. His style of working is fluid and nimble, and he is absolutely a visionary who knows to set up a situation where the people he trusts really weigh in and contribute their best energies. The pieces we wound up with are works that I know neither of us would have made on our own, and I am so psyched on them and the experience that drew them into existence.”
By “crashing” together up to four framed photographs of largely autobiographical nature (there are flowers, his studio, his friends), Fowler’s works become sculpture-photograph-performance hybrids. Now, Off-White allows them to exist as fashion as well. Loosely sown onto the garments like oversized patches or seemingly spilling out of them, they behave like a very intimate anecdote that once in a while falls out of one’s mouth among new friends. The collection as a whole, titled “Mirror Mirror,” leads the label away from street wear, but retains its ease. Sparkling and feathery appliqués added a glam (and vulnerable) element to the collection, juxtaposing nicely with the lethal symbol of the scorpion. After all, clothes are meant to comfort their wearer, but they also function as a shield from an oftentimes hostile exterior.
As Paris Fashion Week came to an end, a visibly relaxed crowd gathered on its final afternoon to view Abloh’s latest collection. They were joined by the label’s local fans, after the designer informed them of the presentation’s location and time, via his Instagram account a few hours earlier. Standing in line by the venue’s entrance, they were a diverse group that shared young age and a mood that can best be described as AMPED.
Staged in an outdoor hallway between Paris’s Cité de la Musique and the adjacent Philharmonie, inaugurated in 1995 and 2015 respectively, the presentation’s light-flooded backdrop again spoke of Off-White’s placement in a high fashion context with both its feet firmly on the street. With three auditoriums and a Museum of Music as well as learning spaces and a media library, the location houses the highest of culture as well as educational facilities, mirroring an idea of inclusivity that is intrinsic to Abloh’s practice as a whole.
With Kanye West, another friend contributed the presentation’s soundtrack: an hour-long remix of his song “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt.2″, from his latest album The Life of Pablo. Chorale and soulful at once, it resonated across the plaza, until the piano hook and Kid Cudi’s “Beautiful morning, you’re the sun in my morning, babe” pre-hook hit a very tender spot, supporting the sunny ambiance of the show, and allowing the more sinister of the looks (which included prints of skeletons, or ones reading “DEATH SENTENCE”) to appear rather playful.
This deeply existential question comes with a range of possible answers, the most satisfying of which perhaps being that fashion touches people, literally, and helps them feel good. Off-White is married to the idea of youth for its progressive potential. It is a romantic sentiment, which Abloh explored more generously than ever this season by blending streetwear references with high fashion, fine art with rap, darkness with sunshine for the pleasure of complexity. In his universe, it appears as though there is no need to divide high- and lowbrow, fashion and street wear. This egalitarian feel might just be what does the Off-White trick.