WWD Digital Daily
Virgil Abloh teamed with Nike again, this time for spring, turning his attention to track and field.
Tightening his ties with Nike and adding fuel to the ath-leisure trend,
Virgil Abloh conscripted eight track-and-field stars to walk in his
spring Off-White show in Paris — and some let models lap them on the oval runway. Here, U.S. high jumper Vashti Cunningham in a ruffled gown with patchwork leggings and sneakers.
“Dress good to look good. Look good to feel good. And feel good to run fast!”
That quote from Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner holds particular resonance for Virgil Abloh, who after his collaboration with Nike and Serena Williams teamed up again with the sportswear giant for his spring Off
White ready-to-wear show. This time, he turned his attention to track and field, a theme that ran through his seasonal statement, from the racing bibs sent out as invitations to the stadium-themed set and the models themselves. The designer tapped eight female star athletes to walk in his show at the Garage Amelot in Paris.
Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner opened the show in crisp white shirts and short skirts. Kaia Gerber was close behind, in a shirtdress with a tank top pieced together from Nike socks. With their metronomic clips, the models easily outpaced the athletes, overtaking some as they wound their way around the track, while a jumbotron flashed their names and countries of origin.
Some of the sports stars blended in effortlessly. Vashti Cunningham, a U.S. high jumper and the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, flexed her 6-foot, 1-inch frame in a tiered cream tent dress, paired with white patchwork leggings and purple sneakers.
For Abloh, it harked back to his childhood heroes — athletes that looked as good off-duty as when they were competing. “Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders were my idols,” he told WWD in an interview the day before the show. “I was a fashion kid. Michael Jordan wearing a gold necklace his rookie year — and that’s, like, superillegal by any term — made me idolize him for his skill set, but he also had style and grace.”
That combination of style and strength felt relevant to Abloh in the #MeToo era, as a metaphor not only for the women’s rights movement, but also the growing relevance of sportswear. “Fashion shows are six months apart. Usually in that space, there’s something happening in the world, and that’s what I respond to,” he said.
“Off-White makes ‘streetwear’ in quotes, not streetwear without quotes, and that means it’s my own definition of what people are wearing in everyday life. My goal is to make that look similar to what I’m presenting on the runway, so we’re having a dialogue with naturally occurring fashion,” he added.
The designer was holding court in a nondescript building in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, where a hive of staffers were making last-minute adjustments to the collection, which blended elements of performance wear with feminine staples like ballgowns and high heels. Four of the athletes signed to Nike were getting fitted for their runway turn: Caterine Ibargüen, a Colombian athlete competing in high jump, long jump and triple jump; Cunningham; British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, and British heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
Abloh said casting the sports stars came naturally. “Because I’m new to fashion, you know, I didn’t come through traditional means or a traditional system, it’s actually less natural for me to think, hey, let me just get professional models to put on this idea, than get real people who embody that. It’s an authenticity thing,” he explained. “When I walk down the street and I see people with a cool style, a jacket or a bag, I might take a photo of what they’re wearing because I like the proportion or something. They’re not a model,” he reasoned.
Likewise, the focus on sportswear was an organic evolution of the “Queen” collection he designed for Williams to wear at the U.S. Open, including a oneshouldered tutu dress. “She obviously has a stature that’s commanding and she’s a champion, but what people don’t realize: she’s equally superfeminine, loves ballet, loves to dance,” he said. “That femininity came through here.”
Hence the hybrid creations, like a black stiletto spliced with a vintage ►