‘PARIS THROUGH A TUNNEL’ EXHIBITION

Two notable artists offered the backdrop for the unofficial Louis Vuitton afterparty, in the heart of Le Marais: Mister Fifou and Ciesay. This creative duo, publishing under the collective pseudonym FACES+PLACES, share a mission “to immortalise the contemporary hip hop scene without relying on old-school hip hop nostalgia”.

The late Virgil Abloh was working on the debut collection for his second independent fashion project – Off-White – around the same time Ciesay emerged from the London street-style scene in 2016. Following the launch, Virgil shared that his objective with Off-White was to fill a gap in the luxury industry: “I was trying to communicate that this generation wants to play a part in fashion. Off-White behaves like a luxury brand, but the spirit and everything underneath it relates to issues of race, youth culture, and globalization.”

His love for sportswear was rooted in its broadly inclusive spectrum, an antidote to fashion’s innate tendency to exclude. By injecting street style sensibilities into luxury fashion, first at Off-White and then at Louis Vuitton, Virgil enabled millions of young street style enthusiasts to find employment in the fashion industry, including FACES+PLACES. At the same time Virgil was building up Off-White, the photographer duo was sneaking into events and capturing some of hip hop’s most influential personas, including Kanye West, Skepta, and A$AP Rocky within the first year.

The majority of Virgil’s projects, whether for Louis Vuitton or Off-White, invited in artists who traditionally would have been considered too ‘alternative’ to be affiliated with a luxury fashion label. He let his dreams run wild and opened the luxury gold-crusted doors for countless people. A model had a breakdown backstage while sharing the story of how Virgil saw him on social media and saved him from the life of violence and gangs in Senegal. Other artists, dancers, and musicians, who never dreamed of listing Louis Vuitton on their CV until Virgil came along and flipped the switch on the norms, were visibly thankful and emotional as well.

While Ciesey and Soulz were following members of A$AP and Skepta’s entourages, Virgil was sending them Off-White merchandise to boost brand awareness. You can spot a few Off-White pieces in the photos hanging in the gallery, including the one of Virgil from 2017.

Having strolled around the gallery, the intimacy of the portraits suggested their well-acquaintance with all the models.

Although some photographs came across more staged than others in terms of composition, none of the exhibited works felt impersonal, all conveying the same laid-back and candid mood.

Ciesey built enough rapport with all these A-listers and morphed into an insider looking out rather than a young fan, an outsider, glimpsing in. You can see the parallel to Virgil’s journey at Louis Vuitton where, in 2020, one of his collections was inspired by the ‘Purist vs. Tourist’ texts, elaborating on what it truly meant to be an insider.

Whether it was the arrivals of breakout British rap phenomenons Headie One and Central Cee, or the open bar courtesy of Moët and Hennessy, the party crowd grew louder as the night progressed. The Hennessy beverages held the attention of the attendees far more than the  exhibited chef d’oeuvres.

I caught a glimpse of some guests amidst heated negotiations with the overwhelmed bartenders, demanding a cognac refill in a used glass (COVID-19 be damned).

One corner of the gallery was converted into a stockpile of sky-blue pillows with a ‘Louis Vuitton SS22’ inscription, offered as souvenirs to the invitees. I observed one man dressed in black guarding the coveted corner and could only assume that he was a bodyguard turned impromptu ‘pillow guard’ for the night.

Ciesey himself was making rounds, hopping from the DJ set to the gatherings of new arrivals by the colossal centrepiece. If Virgil was still with us, I would be looking for him in the DJ corner as DJing after the runway presentations was his very own fashion week tradition. The turntable was nestled in the back of the room and the soundtrack alternated between French and English rap.

At the heart of the gallery, a two-meter-tall head stood bearing a balaclava made out of 3D printed chunky mesh. The mouth and eye holes of the mask housed digital screens playing a series of clips that ranged from flames and a spinning 3D-logo of Ciesey to some more abstract visuals. All in all, it was a fascinating sculpture that captured the zeitgeist perfectly.

A fair share of the guests were also spotted wearing similar black balaclavas. The giant head placed in the centre of the space served as a divider between the photographs by Ciesey and the works by his French counterpart Mister Fifou.

I spent around three hours at the event and still could not decipher Mister Fifou’s identity; although, I am pretty confident he was lurking in the shadows.

Digging online did not reveal much other than one short video clip from his personal Instagram where he himself describes this project as “a true cultural momentum, allowing for an authentic link between fashion, hip hop, and photography”. Responsible for the album art for some of the biggest names in French hip-hop, what is it that unites the vision of Ciesey and Mister Fifou, besides their shared love for hip-hop, photography, and fashion?

The power of photography is the bridge between these three verticals, and the ‘To Paris Through A Tunnel’ exhibition is the lovechild born out of a shared desire to immortalise hip hop icons through the lenses of two very talented rap history majors.

You can read more of Anna’s work on Instagram by following @anastawrites.

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