Milan-based label Off-White as lead by designer Virgil Abloh presented a spiffy menswear collection today in Paris where the label continues to distance itself from casual looks aka streetwear, a category he recently described as dead.
The show was opened with a performance by choreographer and tap dancer Cartier Williams, who is based in Washington DC. During his performance, Williams wore a shirt reading, “I Support Young Black Businesses.”
During Abloh’s meteoric and unlikely rise as the son of Ghanian immigrants, he has at times been criticized for not doing enough to support black design talent. The anti-Abloh chatter reached a peak following the reveal of photograph snapped at an Off-White Christmas party in Milan where almost all of the guests appeared to be white.
As such, there has been some tittering about his decision to open the show with a person whose art form, tap dancing, is sometimes used as a pejorative to describe black people who are overly accommodating of white people. The shirt was also viewed by some as either an ironic statement or a form of trolling.
While it may appear Abloh isn’t doing enough to bring in black talent, outside of his own brand he’s mentored and helped grow the businesses of black designers Heron Preston, A-Cold-Wall* designer Samuel Ross and more recently, Who Decides War, a New York-based label.
Separately, he also championed South Korean DJ Peggy Gou‘s path to starting up Kirin, a label counted among New Guard Group‘s stable. He also worked with conceptual artis Jenny Holzer to create a t-shirt to raise funds for Planned Parenthood.
Abloh isn’t just criticized for his hiring practices. Break out success brings hordes of adoring fans but also is accompanied by those who long to see the celebrated at least knocked down a peg or even better removed from their throne altogether. Within sneaker culture, Off-White and Nike collaborations continue to evaporate though each time they’re announced, there is grumbling from people who view all things Off-White an utter bore.
And while his appointment as Louis Vuitton menswear creative director has widened his embrace among the fashion elite, there are still a lot of holdovers who neither get nor like the grip streetwear and sneaker culture has held on the fashion industry and view Abloh as the poster child for it.
It doesn’t help that Abloh is still closely associated with Kanye West, who’s still viewed by many within the fashion industry as the ultimate barbarian at the gate, symbolizing the ruin of everything. Time has passed but the embarrassingly scathing reviews of his Yeezy presentations live as evidence forever.
Alboh’s efforts as a designer aren’t above criticism but so often the attacks seemed based on a groundswell conclusion that disliking him is the cool thing to do.
And yet he’s indisputably a groundbreaking, game changing black designer who’s place in fashion history is already set in stone. Critics may wish it would be one way but history will show it’s the other way.
Check out Off-White’s fall 2020 presentation below.