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My Son, the Prince of Fashion

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I took my son to Paris Fashion Week, and all I got was a profound understanding of who he is, what he wants to do with his life, and how it feels to watch a grown man stride down a runway wearing shaggy yellow Muppet pants.

HALF AN HOUR LATE, AND JUST AHEAD OF HIS MINDER—HE WAS ALWAYS A STEP AHEAD OF HIS PONDEROUS OLD MINDER—ABRAHAM CHABON SAUNTERED INTO THE ROOM WHERE THE DESIGNER VIRGIL ABLOH WAS GIVING A PRIVATE PREVIEW OF OFF-WHITE’S COLLECTION FOR SPRING-SUMMER 2017 TO A SMALL GROUP OF REPORTERS, EDITORIAL DIRECTORS, AND FASHION BUYERS. ABE’S MANNER WAS SELF-CONSCIOUS, HIS CHEEKS FLUSHED, BUT IF HIS MOVEMENTS WERE A BIT CONSTRAINED THEY HAD AN UNDENIABLE GRACE. SAUNTER WAS REALLY THE ONLY WORD FOR IT.

“Now, this dude here, that’s what I’m talking about,” Abloh said, smiling at Abe from the center of the room, the attic of an old photo studio in the Latin Quarter: crisscrossing steel beams, wide pine floorboards, every surface radiant with whitewash except for the gridded slant of windows in the steep-pitched roof. From their folding chairs opposite the atelier windows, the buyers and editors turned to see what Abloh was talking about. So did the four male models lined up and slouching artfully in front of the people in the folding chairs. By the time his minder caught up with him, everyone in the room seemed to have their eyes on Abe. Prompt people never get to make grand entrances.

“Come over here,” Abloh said. Abloh was a big man, solidly built, an architect by training who had emerged in the early 2000s from the fizzy intellectual nimbus—one-third hip-hop, one-third hustle, one-third McLarenesque inside joke—surrounding fellow Chicagoan Kanye West. Abloh had made a name for himself in fashion along the avant-garde perimeter of streetwear, screen-printing diagonal crosswalk stripes and cryptic mottoes onto blank Champion tees and dead-stock Rugby Ralph Lauren flannel shirts that he re-sold for dizzying multiples of their original retail price. Abe thought Virgil Abloh was “lit,” the highest accolade he could award to anyone or anything. “Come right on over here. Hey, look at you!”

Abe went on over, sleeves rolled, hands thrust into his pockets, tails of his pale gray-green shirt freshly tucked into the waist of his gray twill trousers. In front the shirt lay flat and trim, but it was a little too big, and at the back it bellied out over the top of his skinny black belt. It was Maison Margiela, cleanly tailored, with a narrow collar and covered buttons that gave it a minimalist sleekness. Abe had bought it the day before, on sale, at a shop in Le Marais called Tom Greyhound. He wore a pair of $400 silver Adidas by Raf Simons purchased for $250 on adidasx.com and a pair of Off-White athletic socks. He had pulled the socks up to his knees, where they met the rolled-up cuffs of his trouser legs, vintage-newsboy-style. Money to pay for the “Rafs” had been earned by Abe’s raking leaves for neighbors, organizing drawers and closets around the house, running errands, and other odd jobs. His parents had given him the cash he used to buy the Margiela shirt, on the occasion of his bar mitzvah, and the trousers had actually been repurposed from his Appaman bar mitzvah suit. Abe was 13 years and 3 months old, and he did not need to be told, by Virgil Abloh or anyone else, to look at himself. He knew exactly how he looked.

“Hi,” Abe said to Abloh, in his husky voice—low-pitched and raspy all his life, heading even lower now and given, at the moment, to random breaking, “I’m Abe.”

Some of the people in the room already knew Abe—which tended to get pronounced Ah-bay,like the surname of the Japanese prime minister, by the French staffers who put his name on the guest lists for the 14 shows he attended over the course of Paris Men’s Fashion Week. They had met him or seen him around. He was almost always, and by far, the youngest person in the audience, and would likely have stood out for that reason alone, even if he had not dressed himself with such evident consideration and casual art. But it was his clothes and the way he wore them that elicited reporters’ attention, and a few had taken enough of an interest to ask him some questions, on the record. The questions tended to run along the same lines: What had he thought of this or that particular collection? What got him interested in clothes? Did he hope to be a fashion designer one day? Why had he come to Fashion Week?

I’m here with my dad, it’s my bar mitzvah present, he’s a writer and he’s writing about our trip to Fashion Week for GQ. I know I want to do something in fashion but I don’t know what, maybe design; I do make sketches, mostly streetwear, I like to use fabrics and patterns you kind of wouldn’t expect, like, I don’t know, a Japanese textile pattern for a bomber jacket, or glen plaid overalls. My older brother got me interested in clothes, it started with sneakers and then it kind of grew, and now I know more about men’s fashion than he does. I thought the collection was interesting or I thought it was awesome or I thought it was a little boring, you know, it didn’t really stand out, we’ve seen a lot of trench coats already this week or The quality of the tailoring didn’t seem very good or I thought it was insane or It was fire or It was totally lit.

Abe’s minder noticed that when talking to reporters, Abe almost always found a way to mention the leaf-raking and drawer-organizing, conscious of the atmosphere of privilege and extravagance that permeated the world of fashion. He knew that for a lot of kids his age—good friends of his among them—the price of a pair of “fire” sneakers represented a greater and more important sacrifice than it would for him and his family. But he never directly addressed the ethics of his wearing a shirt that had cost him $225, on sale. He did not offer profound insights into the economics or meaning of style like some pocket-size Roland Barthes bursting with critique and paradox.

Abe was just a kid who loved clothes. He loved talking about them, looking at them, and wearing them, and when it came to men’s clothing, in particular the hipper precincts of streetwear, he knew his shit. He could trace the career path of Raf Simons, from Raf to Jil Sander to Dior and now to Calvin Klein. He could identify on sight the designers of countless individual articles of men’s clothing—sneakers, shirts, jackets, pants—and when he didn’t know for sure, the guesses he made were informed, reasoned, and often correct. He seemed to have memorized a dense tidal chart of recent fashion trends as they ebbed and flooded, witheringly dismissing a runway offering as “fine, for 2014” or “already kind of played out last year.” His taste as reflected in the clothes he wore was impeccable, interesting, and, in its way, fearless.

It takes a profound love of clothes, and some fairly decent luck, to stumble on somebody who wants to converse about cutting-edge men’s fashion at a Rush concert, and yet a year before his trip to Paris, in the aftermath of the Canadian band’s last show at Madison Square Garden, Abe had managed to stumble on John Varvatos. Abe had spent that day leading his bemused minder on a pilgrimage through SoHo, from Supreme to Bape to Saint Laurent to Y-3, and now, ears still ringing from the final encore (“Working Man”), Abe reported in detail to Varvatos, with annotations and commentary, on all the looks he had seen downtown. When he was through, Varvatos had turned to Abe’s minder—a major Rush fan who was, of course, also Abe’s father—and said, “Where’d you get this kid?”

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