Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh: anti war, but weak in fashion

Being invited to show in Pitti – the Florentine menswear salon - can often be the consecration of a designer; or it can be a brutal revelation about the limits of their talent, and a rude public awakening. Which is what Thursday’s late night display by Virgil Abloh amounted to, so rich in pretention and self-importance as to be faintly farcical.


Off-Whte c/o Virgil Abloh show outside Palazzo Pitti


One cannot fault Abloh’s skills as a showman. He convinced Jenny Holzer, the American neo conceptual artist, to project a series of anti-war poems in two-meter high words onto the façade of Palazzo Pitti, the famed museum. And he backed up the massive light installation with classical opera courtesy of the Opera di Firenze.

Then came the clothes; a collection that frequently gave the impression that Abloh had been looking closely at the work of Raf Simons in terms of staging and silhouette; Public School regarding street tailoring; Y-3 for distilling active sportswear into clubbing chic and Helmut Lang in terms of unexpected materials. Of course, two decades ago Lang incorporated Jenny Holzer installations into his own shows and stores.

The net result was some 30 looks marred by oddly placed zips and openings; combined with eccentric versions of classic footwear. Just because you send out a Timberland boot in powdery orange does not make you a designer, or indeed an artist. A claim that Abloh insisted in making in his program notes, where he called himself a “multihyphenate (sic) artist who works in the sphere of fashion as Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh.” Even such fashion legends as Miuccia Prada and Karl Lagerfeld describe themselves, quite correctly, as applied artists. Abloh, however, called Holzer a “fellow artist.”

“No letter comes from the wounded Iran as long as death is the messenger and as the man,” read one ungrammatical poem projected during the show, as a model in white nylon shorts and a smock cut open to expose his tummy marched by. At the show’s end the designer appeared from the audience to take his bow with his cast to tepid applause. As one Anglo-Saxon wag in the front-row asked out loud: “How does one say pretentious in Italian?”

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