Virgil Abloh draws from 1980s graffiti culture for Off-White show

Lauren Cochrane in Paris
Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty

Founded in 2012, Virgil Abloh’s brand Off-White is one made for the digital age. The designer’s social media following – 7.6 million for Off-White, 4.6 million for his personal account – was arguably a factor in him becoming the creative director of menswear for Louis Vuitton last year. But, for Off-White’s spring/summer 2020 menswear show in Paris on Wednesday, Abloh’s collection looked further back, to the graffiti scene in 1980s New York. He collaborated with Futura, a contemporary of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, on a series of spray-painted prints.

The graffiti artist Futura’s work is ‘important for the foundation of streetwear’, the Off-White designer, Abloh, said. Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

If the reference was from the past, the show was designed for the photo opportunities necessary for now. The set featured a sea of white carnations planted in turf, with a Futura sculpture pride of place. Abloh is one of only a few designers of colour in fashion and his casting and front row were noticeably diverse. Celebrities including Lewis Hamilton watched a collection based on 1980s street culture, 1990s dorm rooms and plastic. The show’s finales saw male and female models, including Gigi Hadid, walk through the field of flowers, the women in ball gowns decorated with Futura prints. It was a perfectly orchestrated moment designed for social media.

As always with Abloh, there were also very wearable clothes. Off-White is a cult label on the streetwear scene – and the classics of the genre were here: bucket hats, gilets, denim jackets and bumbags. They will no doubt be snapped up by his devoted young fanbase. His quote mark branding – with items labelled “cap”, “wallet”, “boots”, etc – chimes with a generation who like to wear their meta culture on their sleeve.

Gigi Hadid and the other Off-White models were immersed in a catwalk that seemed designed for photo opportunities. Photograph: Victor Boyko/Getty Images

Backstage, after the show, Abloh said the theme was plastic but it was not really a crusade against single-use waste. Instead, it was “a metaphor for how over a generation a term can transition to mean something else – from a utility to a polarising term”. Some pieces used recycled plastic and the invite was made of the material.

Abloh spoke about the influence of Futura on his own trajectory. “He’s important to the foundation, to streetwear before it was known to a mass public,” said the designer. Abloh is now providing that foundation for others. As the designer was talking, a model came up and hugged him. “Thank you for being the blueprint,” he said to Abloh.