Virgil Abloh's Fall 2019 Louis Vuitton Men's Show Waxed Nostalgic for Michael Jackson

Virgil Abloh Luis Vuitton Runway - Getty - H 2019
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Timothee Chalamet, Frank Ocean, Naomi Campbell and Offset sat front row at the Paris show that paid tribute to the King of Pop.

Considering the time that Virgil Abloh spends in Paris, it’s probable that his second outing as artistic director for Louis Vuitton menswear (the fall-winter 2019 collection shown Thursday at the Jardin des Tuileries) paid homage to Michael Jackson. The dead giveaway was the crystal-covered, single white glove that guests received as an invitation — sparked by the “On the Wall“ exhibit featuring Michael Jackson-inspired artwork that opened in November in Paris, after initially debuting in London.

The exhibition, showing at The Grand Palais through Feb. 14, explores how the globally recognized King of Pop inspired the work of other artists. A comparison could be drawn to Abloh, a multi-faceted creative artist who has likewise influenced traditional fashion designers and has a close affinity with stardom, to a different degree.

This go-round, Abloh dialed back the hype factor, inviting less than half the number of guests than he did for his debut Louis Vuitton collection in June. There was nary a West, Kardashian, Jenner or Ri-Ri girl in attendance. But recent house favorite Timothée Chalamet sat front row, along with Frank Ocean and Kris Wu, plus a handful of up-and-coming rappers like Gunna and Offset and supermodels Naomi Campbell and Natalia Vodianova, partner of Antoine Arnault.

Obvious was the memory-lane mood Abloh created, starting with a set that recalled the "Billie Jean" video by recreating a convergence of streets in the East Village, Lower East Side and NoHo neighborhoods of pre-mega-development Manhattan. To authenticate things, he even brought in notorious street artists Jim Joe, Lewy BTM (his designs decorated the exterior of the show tent) and Futura, who spray-painted a metal store security gate during the show.

A quadruplet of live musicians — Devonté Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange; Mikey Freedom; Hart; and Jason Arce — performed their original soundtrack You Know What’s Good that sampled Jackson’s classics in a jazzy mood throughout the show.

As the show began, models interspersed down the runway “street,” demonstrating not only its multi-cultural roots, but the global nature of the city and the clothes. According to show notes, much like how Jackson turned “an ordinary wardrobe comprised of the staples familiar to us all…into an instrument of awe,” Abloh stuck to the classics, but gave them his deft touch.

Puffy jackets were inflated with oversized LV monogram quilting, short moto jackets softened into full boxy jackets, flannels and T-shirts were dusted with crystals and a Jackson signature (military-style buttons) were displayed on silk shirts and jackets. One sure retail hit? A glittery T-shirt depicting the King of Pop’s infamous en-pointe loafers and socks toe stance, popularized by "Billie Jean." There was also an original print featuring Jackson's scarecrow and other characters from the 1978 film The Wiz.

Soft gray and camel tailoring in louche silhouettes opened the show, overtaking the recent sportswear trend explosion with a more feminine proposition that came in the form of the long, pleated skirts worn over pants. The clothing featured details spelled out in Abloh’s now-signature show dictionary in the notes at each seat. There were several portmanteau terms: Blanketing, Checknetics and Flagification, for example, which respectively refer to padding fabrics, manipulating traditional check pattern and distorting the American flag to become a clothing pattern.

The latter may be the first time the French luxury giant has so prominently featured Old Glory, which appeared mainly in tonal gray as furs, on a trench and on a shirt-and-skirt ensemble. But the U.S. wasn’t the only country recognized. Abloh also made vibrantly colored flag patchwork that became a fur collar on a leather jacket and a standout trench coat and to decorate bags — a nod to Jackson's 1985 charitable single "We Are the World." Black LV-monogram cases were sparked by full-spectrum rainbow patterns — a main theme in Abloh's debut collection for the luxury house last June.

While there was a lot to take in, the energy was more chill than Abloh’s debut show in June, perhaps focusing more on craft, something the creative director has been accused of lacking. As for his critics, the Fall Winter 2019 show basically told them to beat it.