Barely two months have passed since Virgil Abloh was the target of backlash for statements he made in The New Yorker about his Michael Jackson-inspired Fall 2019 menswear collection for Louis Vuitton; the runway show coincided with the wide release of "Leaving Neverland," a documentary that divulged explicit details surrounding the child sexual abuse allegations against Jackson.
Now, the CEO of Off-White is back in hot water for images and videos he shared Tuesday on his Instagram Stories of a Christmas party he threw for over 100 Off-White staffers. Instagram users were quick to point out that they didn't spot one person of color — and more specifically, one Black person — on the Milan-based team.
Users used the comments section of Abloh's most recent post to express their frustration, with one user saying, "So you clearly don't believe in diversity."
Another user called for Black people to boycott Off-White under the same post, saying, "Black people please learn not [to] support labels and businesses [that] don't support us. 136 members [at the Christmas party] and not one person of color, he clearly sees no value in the creatives that look like him."
Abloh's Off-White is now among a number of fashion houses that have been called out for their lack of diversity and cultural missteps in recent months, including Prada for its racially insensitive monkey trinkets, Gucci for its "blackface" balaclava scandal (which ultimately required that house collaborator Dapper Dan get involved) and Burberry's "noose" hoodie controversy. As a result of the customer- and fan-driven feedback they've received, all three luxury labels have established diversity initiatives to reassure consumers of their intention to change.
The uniformity of whiteness at Abloh's Off-White Christmas party seems particularly striking, given he made history with his role at Louis Vuitton, marking the French house's first Black creative director. Plus, throughout his time in the spotlight, Abloh has remained a champion of Black culture and the Black youth who propel it, pushing for it to be taken seriously in the fashion world. At the top of the year, the designer discussed the significance of a 10-year-old photo of him and Kanye West, among others, at Paris Fashion Week. "What makes that photo resurfacing interesting is I couldn't even get into a Louis Vuitton show at that point, you know," he said. "Like, going into a store sometimes could have been difficult."
Though Abloh has yet to respond to the fervent negative responses to his seemingly all-white Off-White staff, the understandable and righteous frustration may get lost in all the praise of Abloh's perceived ability to capture the "cool kid" aesthetic. You may recall that this is similar to Demna Gvasalia's past faux pas, when he did not include a single model of color on the runway for his debut collection as artistic director at Balenciaga back in 2016.
UPDATE, Sat. May 4, 5:01 p.m.: On Friday, Abloh provided the following quote to Hypebeast:
"My design team is diverse as the world is big. The video shown was an Off-White™ dinner at the headquarters in the city of Milan, Italy. This party was to celebrate the hard work of the local Italian team."
A representative for Off-White also provided a statement to Hypebeast:
"When questioned about diversity, Virgil Abloh takes pride in being African and American. His design team is diverse, and his practice has been built on making the art and design industry an inclusive community. Fellow designers like Samuel Ross, Heron Preston, No Vacancy Inn — by Tremaine Emory and Acyde Odunlami, Everard Best, Photographer Fabien Montique, amongst many others have been given a platform via Off-White™. These are just a few of the many global voices and people sitting at the table and helping evolve the brand. Off-White™ is a black founded and owned business. He wishes to use this moment of being questioned to be a moment of reflection within the industry to showcase the talents behind their design entities and push to have a design community that represents the outside world."