Mario Apollon didn’t think he’d fall under that spell. “I was not planning on buying anything, but I ended up getting the bag I’m carrying,” he says, referencing the small soft-sided trunk-shaped bag at his waist. “It’s an everyday bag it goes with everything I wear. Honestly, it was one of my best purchases of 2018.” He’s at the event with David Schwitzer, a Louis Vuitton diehard who started buying a keepall every season former designer Kim Jones was at the helm. After the change in leadership, he’s keeping the tradition going: in the two orange bags at our feet are a coin pouch, a pair of sunglasses, and, of course, that pearlescent Prism bag. “You’re going to see it all over Instagram,” Schwitzer says, “but you’re not going to see a lot of people at your local airport showing up with that.”
The next day, I head to the pop-up before it opens to the public. There is a modest line stretching down the block—not Supreme length, but longer than what you’d find outside a standard Louis Vuitton. The line doubles as a retrospective of Abloh’s greatest hits: one man wears an Off-White camo puffer, Off-White belt, and Off-White x Nike Blazers; another gets out of a car pulling a see-through Off-White x Rimowa suitcase stuffed with black clothing and a pair of Off-White x Nike sneakers; almost the entirety of “The Ten” collection Abloh did with the Swoosh is on display. The smell of weed wafts to the front of the line, where I find a man named Michael Lewis.
Lewis and his friend Aalona Robinson flew in from Detroit specifically to attend this shopping event, even booking a room at a nearby hotel to be close. Lewis is wearing a black puffer and a black beanie covered in the Louis Vuitton monogram. He’s a recent convert. “I like Louis Vuitton now because of [Abloh],” he says. “I’m always buying Off-White. It takes up all my money. And now this Louis Vuitton stuff, it’s cool—they can have it too.”
For Lewis and Robinson, the event is not just about new clothes—it’s about the new culture Abloh is bringing to Vuitton. “People who are willing to camp aren’t the normal Louis customer,” Lewis says, although one can argue that the brand’s red-hot Supreme collaboration was proof the brand would have no problem reeling in hypebeasts. “You’re not going to see a 60-year-old lady standing in line. That’s Louis’s customer. These are Virgil’s customers.” Lewis says he checks the LV website every day to see what dropped, and knows that flying into New York and getting in line at 9 a.m. is part of the deal now—especially if, like Lewis, you want that extremely Instagrammable Prism bags.
Another pair in line, Genghis Chakhan and Olivia Carpenter, agree that Abloh’s touchpoints make the new Louis Vuitton so appealing, even if they can’t exactly describe what they love so much about the design. “It’s pretty abstract,” Carpenter says. But you know it when you see it: “I feel like even if somebody didn’t like the item,” Carpenter says, “if [Abloh] put some quotation marks on it they’d be like, ‘Ahhh, yeah!’”
For customers like Robinson and Lewis, though, it’s not just about copping highest-end streetwear. They say the effects of having a black designer at the top of a European luxury house are already showing up in exciting ways. The day before, after they got in from Detroit, the pair went to Louis Vuitton’s 5th Avenue flagship. As Robinson peered in the window lined with sculpted mannequins, the shift, clear as day, stared back at her. “You can tell that the sculpture in the window was black, he had curly hair and a wide nose—and to see that at Louis Vuitton in a window on 5th Avenue is a whole new thing,” Robinson says. Virgil, it turns out, brings more than just hype. “That’s huge,” Robinson continues. “You don’t see other high fashion houses with that in the window.”