The meaning behind the OFF-WHITE c/o Virgil Abloh runway show at Pitti Uomo

Spring/summer 2018 collection

Text: Norman Tan

A review of the OFF-WHITE c/o Virgil Abloh SS18 show at Pitti Uomo 92

Instead of showing at Paris Men's Fashion Week this season, Virgil Abloh unveiled his men's spring/summer 2018 collection at Pitti Uomo 92 — right in the heart of Florence at Piazza de Pitti. And, because he wanted to bring "a sense of urgency rather than escapism to the phenomenon of the fashion show" — as underscored in his show notes — he enlisted artist Jenny Holzer to create light projections on the facade of the Pitti Palace that formed the grand backdrop to the open-air runway.

The light projections were, in fact, two films that featured text from a series of poems by Anna Świrszczyńska (who joined the Polish resistance during WWII) and seven other poets living as exiles in Europe and the US that documented current events such as the conflict in Syria, the situation in Palestine, and the broader ongoing struggle for human rights and justice in various parts of the world. In a nutshell, these were graphic poems of loss, pain and despair. Which, when intentionally juxtaposed against the regal music from the Opera di Firenze that accompanied the show, made for an uncomfortable pairing.

It was part fashion show, part performance art. Abloh clashed two disparate worlds to highlight our ever-widening social inequalities: Poems of children suffering from starvation; of war ravaged lands and raining bullets; of burning buildings and screaming victims — eerily prescient given the current London Grenfell Tower fire tragedy — all in bid to embrace the "now" rather than the "new". However, for a show already running 50 minutes late, the stream of poems that scrolled for over 10 minutes before the first model took to the stage was in need of a desperate edit. Overheard at the venue: "You know it's been going on for too long when people stop Instagramming." 

When it came to the clothes, it started with deconstructed white ensembles punctuated with penitentiary orange by way of hi-top sneakers, oversized bags, and stand alone hoods; high sheen fabrications were presented on slate grey parkas and Macs elasticised at the waist; there were a handful of nylon trenches and outerwear that swished with every step; and one for the fitness junkies, sheer hooded crop tops that stopped short just above the navel to expose the abdomen. 

Abloh termed the collection 'Temperature', inviting us to contemplate the word in the context of fashion: What is "hot"? What is "cool"? Personally, if I had to choose, I've always favoured being "cool" over "hot". Why? "Hot" is transient whilst "cool" is an attitude and approach to life that builds and develops over time. Which begs the question, was Abloh's spring/summer 2018 men's collection "hot" or "cool"? They were very current — as exemplified by the cool digital LED lights built into outerwear referencing Holzer's electronic artworks, and the oh-so-hot-right-now high-waisted jean worn with a cycling jersey top and white cap. That's right, it was both.


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