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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Louis Vuitton’s first ever U.S. fashion show turned into a somber yet whimsical tribute to groundbreaking designer Virgil Abloh days after his death.

The Miami menswear event, an unofficial kickoff to the prestigious Art Basel fair, had been in the works for months. Guests were ferried by yachts to the star-studded affair held on an island.

Celebrity attendees, including Kim Kardashian West and her daughter North, Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, model Bella Hadid, Joe Jonas, Maluma and Pharrell, arrived in sleek LV monogrammed silver speedboats.

Kid Cudi and Erykah Badu performed at an after-party. “Hey Virgil,” she yelled at the start of her set, later saying “we want to see you fly.”

Abloh, who died Sunday after a lengthy battle with cancer, was known for pushing boundaries as the head of the legendary French fashion house, thanks to his childlike curiosity and an eagerness to instill a sense of playfulness. His groundbreaking fusions of streetwear and high couture made him one of the most celebrated tastemakers.

A focal point of the show was a giant, red LV monogrammed hot air balloon that puffed flames as Abloh’s voice was heard in the background.

The brand’s CEO Michael Burke said Abloh’s wife and family wanted the show to go on. He had just spoken to the young designer on Saturday night, describing the inspiration for the show as a coming of age of sorts because “inspiring future generations was very important to Virgil.”

“We had imagined it all and he was distraught not to be here in person,” Burke said.

Models walked the meandering runway, showcasing the collection that featured everything from neon colored amphibian, aqua-gear looks with colorful fish backpacks to letterman style school sweaters and snow bunny looks with furry boots.

There was a sleek matte black ensemble that resembled SWAT gear, military style suits in olive with belted coats and even brightly color Southern-belle style hoop skirts. Prints included tie dye hues and the iconic checkered logo redone in new color patterns.

While the clothes were like Abloh — playful, colorful and vibrant — the mood was somber. During and after the show, many in the audience wiped away tears, standing to hug each other or offer a pat of comfort.

The sparse clapping at the end was awkward. Unlike most shows, no one got up to mingle or talk, but instead sat in heavy silence.

The designer’s traditional finale bow was not coming and never would again and as fireworks lit up the Miami skyline, the audience seemed painfully aware of his absence.

Instead, the show circled back to the bold hot air balloon as the designer’s voice said “life is short” for “worrying about what someone thinks you can do versus knowing what you can do” — a sort of anthem that a generation of young fans rallied behind.

Lamont Spears traveled from Atlanta just for the show, wearing a fuzzy LV monogrammed hoodie coat and a sweatshirt with Abloh’s picture.

“It’s a very sad moment, but we’ve got to celebrate his life, we’ve got to keep on pushing because he made a way for us to keep going, to keep being confident,” said the 35-year-old. “He showed me that I can.”

Abloh in 2018 became the first Black man to serve as Louis Vuitton’s director of men’s wear in the French design house’s storied history. He grew up outside of Chicago, his first generation Ghanaian American seamstress mother teaching him to sew.

New York stylist Memsor Kamarake, who saw Abloh’s first show in Paris, flew in specifically for the final tribute, saying through tears after the fireworks, “I felt like now I can finally grieve him.”

“So often black folks are depicted through pain, through struggle, that’s why it was so important for him to tap into this childlike joy,” Kamarake said.

Above a red carpet leading to an outdoor after-party, the sky lit up with red dots that danced in various configurations before coming together to say “Virgil was here.”

Abloh, who founded his own Off-White label in 2013, had a vast creative presence outside of clothing. His sculpture “Dollar a Gallon,” unveiled this week during Art Basel, is a commentary on the effect of advertising on the impressionable.

He also designed furniture for IKEA, refillable bottles for Evian and Big Mac cartons for McDonald’s. His work was exhibited at the Louvre, the Gagosian and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Abloh had a prominent influence in streetwear. He interned with Ye at the LVMH brand Fendi, was the rapper’s creative director and scored a Grammy nomination as art director for the 2011 Ye-Jay-Z album “Watch the Throne.”

“I think it’s going to be the most important moment ever in LV history,” said David Filipucci, a 21-year-old who traveled from the Netherlands to attend the show.

“LV for the moment is Virgil. He made it more special.”

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Ultra-rich fueling sales of luxury brands despite inflation and recession fears

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A pedestrian carries a Louis Vuitton shopping bag, from a store operated by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, on New Bond Street in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.Hollie Adams | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Prices for food, gas and travel have soared over the past year –  but the rich appear to be shrugging it off and are still fueling sales at luxury companies, where sneakers can go for $1,200 and sports cars easily top $300,000.

Companies that cater to the ultra-rich, including Ferrari and the parent companies of Dior, Louis Vuitton and Versace, are reporting strong sales or hiking their profit forecasts. The upbeat results come even as recessionary fears hang over the economy, with Walmart, Best Buy, Gap and others slashing their financial outlooks, citing a pullback in spending among lower-income consumers squeezed by inflation.

The unflagging strength in the luxury category is in line with past economic slowdowns, experts say, with the rich often being the last to feel the effects because of the cushion their extreme wealth provides. Among the jet set, the continued spending also signals how pricey purchases often serve as status symbols.

"Having symbols of power within your tribe is a powerful thing," said Milton Pedraza, founder and CEO of Luxury Institute, a market research and business management firm. "Those symbols of power still matter tremendously within the tribes of the ultra-wealthy."

Louis Vuitton, for example, offers a pair of sneakers for $1,230, as well as a bag that costs $2,370. The high-fashion brand's parent company LVMH, which also owns Christian Dior, Fendi and Givenchy, reported organic revenue growth of 21% to 36.7 billion euros ($37.8 billion) in the first half of 2022 compared to a year ago.

At Versace, where the price tag for a pair of shoes or collared shirt can easily top $1,000, quarterly revenue rose nearly 30% to $275 million from a year ago when stripping out the effect of currency movements. Its parent company Capri Holdings, which also owns Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo, said overall revenue rose 15% to $1.36 billion for the period.

Despite the broader economic uncertainties, Capri CEO John Idol said the company remains confident in its long-term goals because of the "the proven resilience of the luxury industry."

"None of us know what's going to happen in the back half of the year with the consumer, but it appears that the luxury industry is quite robust and quite healthy," Capri said during an earnings call this week.

Earlier this month, Italian supercar maker Ferrari also boosted its guidance for the year after revenue hit a record 1.29 billion euros ($1.33 billion) in its second quarter. The 75-year-old automaker's 2022 Ferrari 296 GTB, which has plug-in hybrid capabilities, starts at $322,000, according to Car and Driver, while its 2022 Ferrari 812 GTS starts at around $600,000. Even used Ferraris are selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Outside the luxury world, some companies are also noting strength in more expensive options. Delta Air Lines, for example, cited stronger revenue recovery for offerings such as business class and premium economy, compared with its other coach tickets.

Though the luxury industry has always had a degree of resiliency, the growing wealth disparity fueled by the pandemic is adding to the sector's current strength, said Amrita Banta, managing director of Agility Research & Strategy, which specializes in affluent consumers.

"The disposable income of most affluent and HNW (high net-worth) consumers has increased because less was spent on travel," she said.

Additionally, she said there's been a cultural shift since the recession in 2008 and that high net worth consumers today are less guilty about spending in a slowdown, and "feel entitled to spend their wealth." She said that's partly a reflection of people in developing countries, where wealth is growing.

Luxury companies might be noticing a spending slowdown among the 80% of their customers who are "nearly affluent," said Pedraza of the Luxury Institute. But he said those consumers typically account for about 30% of sales.

Instead, he said luxury brands often count on just 20% of its clientele − the ultra-wealthy and very wealthy -- for the majority of their sales. And since that cadre is far more inflation and recession-resistant, luxury companies tend to experience a slowdown last, he said.

"The type of clients and the amount of sales they account for in true luxury brands makes them super resilient," he said. "Not immune, but super resilient."


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