The designer’s first collection with the luxury house is finally available to shop in person—and many are flocking to New York to do exactly that.
Virgil Abloh is here, behind a paned-glass window in the lower Manhattan outpost of jewelry brand Chrome Hearts. The window’s close enough to a curtain for the Wizard of Oz-referencing designer. So that makes the second floor of the Chrome Hearts shop, where Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton collection is available to buy in person for the first time, his Oz. And who needs a brain or courage or a heart when they can have fur tie-dye scarves, small leather soft-sided trunks with chunky orange chains, large pearlescent duffel bags, and Timothée Chalamet co-signed “mid-layer garments?”
The space is all raw concrete (remember when Abloh outed himself as a Brutalism stan?), pitch-black dangling chandeliers, and art projects that took Abloh five years to put together. The sort of room where the filthy rich would ride out the end of the world. In the purest expression of excess, champagne is doled out at 2 p.m. in the afternoon alongside fashion industry-sized snacks (less bite- than nibble-sized) and there’s a one-of-one table embossed with the Louis Vuitton monogram that’s yours for $150,000. Abloh celebrated by holding a dinner at the shop and then, as he is wont to do, DJing the after party.
The shopping event, which Louis Vuitton refers to as a “Residency,” is the home of Louis Vuitton’s menswear for the next week, until the collection goes wide on the 18th. But for now, Chrome Hearts is ground zero for the occasion that’s been culminating ever since Abloh was appointed to LV in March of last year. We dissected the appointment from every angle, watched the show, cried over The Hug, and waited patiently for the clothes to make it from runway to store. And now finally, the designer’s clothes are available to purchase—and customers have wasted no time doing exactly that. Buzzing all around are employees toting cellphones in leather Louis Vuitton cases that act as checkout points. They’ve been called upon constantly; the room fills with Louis Vuitton’s signature dusty orange shopping bags. But this is less shopping event than exclusive party where photographers run around trying to catch high-powered buyers. At the custom Louis Vuitton table, a woman in one of the collection’s floral fleeces is trying to grab the perfect selfie. A man wanders around carrying that shimmering $3,850 Prism keepall. The bag is large enough to qualify as checked luggage, but is really most useful when attempting to stunt: he’s not carrying anything in it.
For all the hand wringing and pearl clutching that followed Abloh’s initial appointment as the men’s creative director of Louis Vuitton, the event suggests that the designer won’t run into too much trouble replicating the success he’s had with Off White and the stacked list of collaborators he’s accrued over the years. That’s because the designer is most successful when constructing a universe with very clear touchstones—air quotes, diagonal stripes, zip ties, Italian Renaissance artists—and those tentpoles are being erected at this event. Whether they just bought it or somehow got early access to the items, large chunks of attendees are milling around in their brand-new Abloh-designer Louis Vuitton. A dozen different people have the miniature soft-sided trunk—made unmistakable by the vibrant playground-ready chains—slung over their shoulders like a cross body bag. It seems normal in the moment, but imagine this taking place in any other environment: people puffing out their chests and walking around a department store, say, in the clothes they just bought. The only thing people seem to want more than Abloh’s designs is to be seen in them.
Mario Apollon didn’t think he’d fall under that spell. “I was not planning on buying anything, but I ended up getting the bag I’m carrying,” he says, referencing the small soft-sided trunk-shaped bag at his waist. “It’s an everyday bag it goes with everything I wear. Honestly, it was one of my best purchases of 2018.” He’s at the event with David Schwitzer, a Louis Vuitton diehard who started buying a keepall every season former designer Kim Jones was at the helm. After the change in leadership, he’s keeping the tradition going: in the two orange bags at our feet are a coin pouch, a pair of sunglasses, and, of course, that pearlescent Prism bag. “You’re going to see it all over Instagram,” Schwitzer says, “but you’re not going to see a lot of people at your local airport showing up with that.”
The next day, I head to the pop-up before it opens to the public. There is a modest line stretching down the block—not Supreme length, but longer than what you’d find outside a standard Louis Vuitton. The line doubles as a retrospective of Abloh’s greatest hits: one man wears an Off-White camo puffer, Off-White belt, and Off-White x Nike Blazers; another gets out of a car pulling a see-through Off-White x Rimowa suitcase stuffed with black clothing and a pair of Off-White x Nike sneakers; almost the entirety of “The Ten” collection Abloh did with the Swoosh is on display. The smell of weed wafts to the front of the line, where I find a man named Michael Lewis.
Lewis and his friend Aalona Robinson flew in from Detroit specifically to attend this shopping event, even booking a room at a nearby hotel to be close. Lewis is wearing a black puffer and a black beanie covered in the Louis Vuitton monogram. He’s a recent convert. “I like Louis Vuitton now because of [Abloh],” he says. “I’m always buying Off-White. It takes up all my money. And now this Louis Vuitton stuff, it’s cool—they can have it too.”
For Lewis and Robinson, the event is not just about new clothes—it’s about the new culture Abloh is bringing to Vuitton. “People who are willing to camp aren’t the normal Louis customer,” Lewis says, although one can argue that the brand’s red-hot Supreme collaboration was proof the brand would have no problem reeling in hypebeasts. “You’re not going to see a 60-year-old lady standing in line. That’s Louis’s customer. These are Virgil’s customers.” Lewis says he checks the LV website every day to see what dropped, and knows that flying into New York and getting in line at 9 a.m. is part of the deal now—especially if, like Lewis, you want that extremely Instagrammable Prism bags.
Another pair in line, Genghis Chakhan and Olivia Carpenter, agree that Abloh’s touchpoints make the new Louis Vuitton so appealing, even if they can’t exactly describe what they love so much about the design. “It’s pretty abstract,” Carpenter says. But you know it when you see it: “I feel like even if somebody didn’t like the item,” Carpenter says, “if [Abloh] put some quotation marks on it they’d be like, ‘Ahhh, yeah!’”
For customers like Robinson and Lewis, though, it’s not just about copping highest-end streetwear. They say the effects of having a black designer at the top of a European luxury house are already showing up in exciting ways. The day before, after they got in from Detroit, the pair went to Louis Vuitton’s 5th Avenue flagship. As Robinson peered in the window lined with sculpted mannequins, the shift, clear as day, stared back at her. “You can tell that the sculpture in the window was black, he had curly hair and a wide nose—and to see that at Louis Vuitton in a window on 5th Avenue is a whole new thing,” Robinson says. Virgil, it turns out, brings more than just hype. “That’s huge,” Robinson continues. “You don’t see other high fashion houses with that in the window.”
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