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Does Virgil Abloh Want to Be the Next Designer at Céline?

New York Fashion Week kicks off with dispatches from Virgil Abloh's Nike collaboration and Tom Ford's return to New York.

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Sep 7 2017, 3:30pm

Photograph by Neil Rasmus/BFA.com

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Virgil Abloh—the man behind collaborative streetwear machine OFF-WHITE, Kanye West's symbiotic Svengali, and Martha Stewart fanatic—is always very busy, but these past few weeks, his tasks have felt a bit higher profile. Announcing that he was the creative director for Love Is Rage 2 , the new album from Lil Uzi Vert, who is the emo Puck of the burgeoning SoundCloud rap scene, Abloh released a music video-cum-video-look-book for the single, "XO Tour Llif3," and made the cover art an OFF-WHITE billboard. (Bold: Riccardo Tisci's cover for Jay Z and Kanye's 2011 Watch the Throne may have looked like Givenchy, where Tisci was then creative director, but it didn't feel quite so advertorial.) Abloh also announced, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death, that the womenswear collection he'll show in Paris later this month will be inspired by the People's Princess (Diana, who made spandex and a Harvard sweatshirt look regal with an Hermes bag, is weirdly the perfect face for today's masstige avant-garde).

And last but certainly not least, he landed in New York to celebrate The Ten, a collaboration with Nike for which he reworked ten iconic sneakers, which are installed with much fanfare in a sprawling space on Wall Street for a multi-day event Nike is calling OFF CAMPUS.

Last week, Abloh was also asked to address ongoing rumors as to whether or not he'll take the helm at Versace (both he and the Italian house denied the rumors to Business of Fashion). But yesterday, during a Q&A at the OFF CAMPUS event, he seemed much more interested in another brand: "I'm searching for a new tool to communicate in post-American-Apparel-super-ironic, post-Been-Trill [world]," Abloh said, "that is a little bit closer to Céline. That is the goal of everything: to be closer to Céline."

Perhaps he's just fan-girling—later, he insisted that he get to answer a question directed at VP Nike Design Andy Caine about favorite artists, and said his was Céline designer Phoebe Philo—and his love of the brand is well documented. But rumors kick up every season or so about Philo leaving her post, too, which makes one wonder whether Versace is a red herring—perhaps it's the powerhouse of Parisian minimalism that Abloh is really after.

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(The sneakers are pretty cool, by the way: nine classic Nike styles deconstructed, scribbled on, tricked out with labels and logos, and—in a move that feels like a more tender echo of Paul McCarthy's replica of Jeff Koons's balloon dog, or Mark McNairy's 2013 parody of Abloh's previous brand, Pyrex—a Converse sneaker.)

In the meantime, everyone is trying to figure out what New York Fashion means, after Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Altuzarra, and Thom Browne defected to Paris. But to me, those designers always felt European—there is an emphasis on craftwork, emotion, and beauty. Paris is the city of light and New York…has a lot of dark alleyways (like the one Raf Simons showed his menswear collection in this past August!). It's about savvy, and hustle, and ideas, and even anxiety—although those are propositions that will be best be explored later this week by scrappy cool kids like Eckhaus Latta, power players like Raf Simons at Calvin Klein, and even our old friend Marc Jacobs.

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The big to-do yesterday was Tom Ford, the best-smelling man in the world, who is back in the New York groove after taking some time in L.A. and London. In fact, that makes him the quintessential modern New Yorker— I'm taking some time to travel to other cities to work on my inner brand, man—but the question is whether sex, Tom Ford's hottest commodity, still sells. Today's most compelling designers—Balenciaga and Vetements' Demna Gvasalia, and Alessandro Michele at Gucci, where Tom Ford first made his big sexy mark—are all about covering up, whether it's through oversized silhouettes (Demna) or a surplus of embellishment and fabric (Alessandro). It's modesty as excess, if you can believe that contradiction—but that's fashion, baby!

As it turns out, sex will still sell, but it's less an invitation to a bedding and more about showing off the benefits of one's boutique fitness class regimen. Ford was suitably sporty—there were plungy, hiked-up body suits which were basically bathing suits, under low-slung pants and oversized blazers and sweatshirts that seemed tossed-on after a hard day's something. It was a little American Tale: Hedi Slimane Goes West—and Tom Ford has always seemed like a great American cowboy to me: whatta hunk! There was a glamorous, establishment energy to the sheer spectacle of it all—the late-night Shake Shack burgers served at the after-party made me think of Vanity Fair carting out In-N-Out in the wee hours of the Oscar Party. And on social media, at least, people seemed to take this in with a kind of exuberant relief. New York Fashion: it's alive and clicking!

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