He worked until the last minute.

That was the word about Virgil Abloh in the days leading up to an emotional Louis Vuitton men’s fashion show on Tuesday afternoon in Miami. It would have been a homecoming of sorts for the Chicagoan, his first runway presentation on American soil since he became creative director of menswear for the legacy French label. It came to be his swan song. Abloh, age 41, unexpectedly died on Sunday, stunning his colleagues at the brand, the French conglomerate that owns it, his peers and admirers in the fashion industry, and his phalanx of fans around the world.

The show in Miami had been in the works since September to mark the opening of Vuitton’s only freestanding men’s store besides Tokyo, and Abloh, who had been at the helm for nearly four years before his sudden death, had been in the weeds about every detail, down to the napkin rings that would be used at a welcome dinner for guests. It was understood that he’d be unable to join the event on the ground due to his health, but save for intimates few had little insight into his private battle with a rare form of cancer. His usual flurry of WhatsApps and texts through Saturday suggested it was all systems go, and with brio.

kid cudi at vuitton miami

The musician Kid Cudi modeling in the late Virgil Abloh’s last fashion show, for Louis Vuitton men’s in Miami.

Isidore Montag, for Louis Vuitton

The show, at the Miami Marine Stadium—an architectural relic marooned in Biscayne Bay—was orchestrated to be a blockbuster, a big billboard for Abloh’s influence and a testament to his prominence on the LVMH roster. The Arnaults had flown to Florida for the production, as had a megawatt, globe-trotting armada of celebrities, journalists, and hypebeasts, including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian West, Pharrell and Venus Williams. The affair was timed to coincide with the annual Art Basel Miami Beach fair, the first in person of the Covid era, and would likely eclipse it in headlines, impressions and sheer star power with the full force of the maison working to realize the designer’s expansive vision. Upon Abloh’s death, those efforts blossomed into something more poignant, a celebration, as the designer’s wife Shannon and his family had requested, of “the life and legacy of his creative genius.”

It was, and then some, the likes of which have rarely been seen in 20 years of Basel blowouts. The Stateside presentation of Abloh’s spring 2022 collection—shown here for the second time after Paris over the summer and dubbed “7.2” after his seven full-fledged collections for the house—was followed by fireworks and a concert featuring Erykah Badu and Kid Cudi, who had modeled earlier in the evening, all set against the dramatic backdrop of an LV-branded hot air balloon and the crumbling 60-year-old amphitheater bathed in kaleidoscopic lights. A ballet of drones spelled out a bittersweet grace note: “Virgil was here.”

vuitton mens miami

A look from the late Virgil Abloh’s last fashion show, a Louis Vuitton men’s collection shown in Miami on November 30.

Isidore Montag, for Louis Vuitton

By now, the contours of Abloh’s biography are familiar—the son of Ghanian immigrants who studied architecture; the creative consigliere to Kanye West; the streetwear evangelist—but one portrait that emerged in posts across social media over the weekend was that of the quiet champion, the dedicated mentor, the big brother cheerleader.

Exciting young creatives like Rihanna’s creative director Jahleel Weaver and the stylists Carlos Nazario and Gabriella Karena-Johnson shared effusive, proud texts they’d get from Abloh, sent, no doubt, from some corner of the world where he was attending to his demanding schedule. Abloh understood that his very success opened doors for other artists of color, and that his advice, even encouragement and support—through efforts like The Virgil Abloh™ “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund and Vuitton’s contributions to UNICEF education initiatives in Ghana, including $100 for every guest that attended Tuesday’s show—could give those following his footsteps the confidence to carry on, to flourish, and help the next generation coming up behind them.

virgil abloh takes a bow in miami louis vuitton men’s show

A sculpture of the late designer Virgil Abloh at his last fashion show, a menswear collection for Louis Vuitton.

Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

“This idea of coming of age was important to Virgil because inspiring and empowering younger generations informed who he was,” said Michael Burke, Vuitton’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Many of Abloh’s acolytes turned up on Tuesday afternoon, alongside boatloads of clients—literally; ferries were chartered to transport guests, many sporting the designer’s signature harnesses and head-to-toe looks—and members of his star-studded inner circle. Unlike other designers who prefer to work in isolation, Abloh made collaboration a bedrock of his practice. He was unafraid to share the credit in an industry that puts a premium on the voice of god of a single creative director, and, in turn, these peers and artistic coconspirators, friends, really—West, A$AP Rocky, the artists JR and Daniel Arsham, the designers Kerby Jean-Raymond and Matthew Williams, and Silvia Venturini Fendi, for whom Abloh interned—made a pilgrimage to pay their last respects. They mourned under one of those sensational Miami sunsets that seemed providential; in fact, Abloh planned the show around it.

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“Like all of you, Virgil’s passing remains inconceivable to me. He was born the same year as my oldest child and I considered him a son,” Burke continued, choking up. His remarks struck the only elegiac note over the course of several hours that exploded with promise, optimism, and the confidence of a designer who clearly had more to say. Coats carried patches reading “Dance ’22” and “Euphoria,” suits in Technicolor hues radiated joy, the concert, fireworks, and the stagecraft of it all amped the energy up to 11. These clothes were familiar—only 10 of the looks were new—but they took on a whole new meaning under the circumstances. The goodwill towards the designer made for a contact high, persuading even his skeptics, those dubious of the merits of his so-called three-percent rule. Tears were shed, but this was more tent revival than requiem, more rave than vigil. Fittingly, one of his last acts was a gesture of generosity: It was Abloh’s design studio that took to the runway for a final bow.

Fashion events seldom register during this week-long decathlon of debauchery, but this one pulled the art world into its gravitational orbit and didn’t let go. Virgil was here, alright, and he made his mark.

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