Virgil's pithy title for this season's Off-White show, 'Nothing New', was an arch shout-back to Raf Simon's comments about him in a recent GQ Interview. To single out Virgil's work as not important due to its lack of originality seemed harsh. Arguably, Demna Gvasalia and Jacquemus, the other two 'new gen' designers that Simons applauded so completely live off the back of other design legacies. What Virgil Abloh has brought to fashion is a young contemporary voice, and with the likes of Hood by Air, a much needed racially inclusive voice. Hood by Air’s shapes and garment design is being seen everywhere – but so is Virgil’s near-pop cultural-tastic take on stripes – which appear in Lou Stoppard’s current exhibition, North. These stripes first arrived in our world via the Peter Saville Factory Records graphics for the Ben Kelly designed legendary nightclub, Hacienda. In short nothing is original now, nothing. So, if nothing is original? What about technique? Is that all we have left? There are few technicians in our world, like Yamamoto, Galliano and McQueen, who have both come up with imaginative ideas – and cut cloth. Not trained in fashion, Virgil is a creative director – cum DJ. Just as J.W.Anderson is a curator of ideas – and Raf Simons is a visual poet (who too does not 'make' clothes).
A Marcel Duchamp moustachioed Mona Lisa reproduction was placed on the Off-White A/W 17 invitation. A controversial figure who was not seen as an artist by many, Virgil seemed to be using the Dadaist movement - and Duchamp's success in having a toilet recognised as a piece of culturally urgent piece of art - as a parallel for perhaps he himself not being seen as part of the in-crowd. But he very much is. Rumours are abound that he may be going to Givenchy – and even if he is not, one black ruffled womenswear dress shown within his recent menswear show was incredibly Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, and there were some more seventies inflected versions of the same Tisci gothic tendencies here too. Fashion design is incredibly autobiographical at the moment. Pieces, and collections, seem to be telling us very mundane, sometimes very everyday things about what the designer is up to. An example would be Raf Simons’s recent move to New York, and hence his newcomer 'I heart NY' t-shirts, or Alessandro Michele recently using the number 15 as a central motif on a dress at Gucci – just because it happens to be his favourite number. I like to think that perhaps Virgil is humouring us with the Tisci-pastiche dresses shown here, and that that he is paying ode to a designer he is perhaps set to replace. Or, perhaps, all of these rumours are untrue. And he’s just having a laugh. Dresses that entertain not even facts. But alternative facts. How timely.
An almost anti-fashion back to basics collection, Virgil Abloh’s offering this season took us to a basic place of greyscale plaids and denim jackets. The decon-recon denim flamenco skirts, which looked entirely utilitarian, were strong. Some blue jacquard leathers also looked worthy of investment. Maybe I am still scarred by the satins at Lanvin this week, but the satins and some of the tailoring fabrics here too looked like they could do with an upgrade, in terms of quality. The fabric quality looked much weightier at the menswear show - and the womenswear could do with a bit of that too. A nude ruffled dress worn with matching puffa looked great though. The white doves that were appliquéd onto a voile tee perhaps spoke of peace. As if there isn’t enough going on in the world, let’s support a designer who has effectively captured a moment much better than many of the big brands.