It’s rare that a show manages to remind you why you like fashion – yes, looks can be cool, and sure, the production can be dynamic – but sometimes shows possess a certain energy that makes you stop and remember how powerful this medium for expression can be. Nearly all of McQueen’s shows had it, I’ve only felt it in only a handful of others since, but Off-White AW22 definitely had it.
Perhaps it was its situation at the very opening of Paris Fashion Week that heightened excitement, before the show even began. There was a palpable energy and apprehension in the faces of everyone hurriedly milling around before the lights went down. Maybe it was the brand’s position on a precipice, being the first show since the late visionary Virgil passed. Or maybe, and most probably, it was the show and collection’s promise of Virgil’s ideas, translated into a visual and physical medium, as one last glimpse into his mind.
As with some of the shows in Milan, Off-White started relatively conservatively. An all-black slim tailored suit, accompanied by what resembled an oversized equestrian helmet, was quickly followed by a slew of looks which included moon boot variations, big fur bags, and party-ready holographic glitter slip dresses.
Models walked with purpose, at speed, and intersected across the stage. Camo leg warmer-boots, with a matching cropped hooded jacket, sat amongst shearling jackets and hugely exaggerated backpacks that were giving first day of year 7. Knits with cut-outs had hints of Stefan Cooke, and grey and plaid skirt suit sets recalled design motifs of Thom Browne. However, everything had a signature Off-White flair, from the abundance of streetwear-infused cutting techniques to the technical and innovative material choice.
Hinting at a possible future venture into beauty, the brand marked “FACE” on the model’s faces in metallic ink. Elsewhere, the words “HAUTE” and “COUTURE” were emblazoned on socks and sneakers. Footwear was technical and chunky – we saw moon-boot style sneakers amongst slouch boots that could have been made from a 1980s sofa. A semitransluscent gum sole loafer was also on show, alongside a range of heeled sneaker-boot hybrids. Footwear was bold, colourful and there to be seen.
Kai Isaiah Jamal closed out what would become the first act, sauntering around the runway space to a live soundtrack being played in the centre of the stage. After a brief choreography break, Bella Hadid opened the second act: appearing as the bride of Off-White, in a puff-ball wedding dress and cream chunky sneakers.
This act was characterised by an army of supermodels, and displayed Off-White’s new ‘high fashion for Gen-Z’ line. Kendall, Gigi and Kaia walked alongside Naomi, Cindy and Karlie, who wore everything from asymmetric-hem Cinderella-style gowns to Off-White’s high-fashion interpretation of a “LITTLE BLACK DRESS”, which happened to be sequinned and worn with cat ears. Most strikingly though was the way the garments were worn: with attitude, playfulness and pride. Personality exuded from the garments, in a collection that was buoyed with the energy of hundreds of creative ideas, rolled into one.
And in essence, that’s exactly what this season was for Off-White: Louis Vuitton’s chairman and CEO Michael Burke compared the current Off-White situation to a pivotal moment in Dior history. “If the legacy is rich, authentic, and steeped in values that go beyond fashion, the odds of turning a passing into something eternal are spectacular,” Burke said, comparing the 2022 position of Off-White to that of Dior in 1957 following the death of Christian Dior.
It’s true that abrupt change has the potential to galvanise a transformation: in a brand, in relationships, or just in life in general. Here, we saw a distillation of Virgil Abloh’s legacy play out in Paris. But in reality, Off-White was always destined for great things – Virgil’s influence is still blatantly present, and amplified in absence.
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