Arriving at the Tennis Club in Paris on March 2 for the Off-White fall-winter 2023-2024 fashion show, guests took their seats in a setting covered in ochre dirt. Here, however, there was no hint of a short to work on your backhand. It was the arid soil of Sierra Leone, his native country, that Ibrahim Kamara, the brand’s new art and image director, wanted to evoke. Memories of the shanty town on the Atlantic Ocean where he grew up speaking Krio have also influenced his designs.
The mossy expanses mutated into green knitted vests or jacquard coats; the tired sheet metal or the rough concrete into tie-dye dresses. And the beloved annual parade, a “sort of carnival” where his mother took him from the age of 4, emerges quietly in a look, one of the strongest of the show: an eggplant and orange jacket and Bermuda shorts ensemble, in a sporty -couture style, zipped up but entirely embroidered with beads.
For the hard-working 33-year-old, this show was the first one he was able to oversee fully as a clothing designer. And this comes after a decade spent exercising his talents as a stylist, that is to say, staging and composing looks with pieces designed by others, both for major houses and fashion magazines (System, W and voguebut also M The magazine of the World, with which he occasionally collaborates). It has been a lightning-fast rise that he evokes without any pessimism, ears pricked with unsuspecting pink flower-shaped earrings. “The truth is that I was not aware of our poverty. I had a happy childhood. I would play outside at night until 10 pm. I would draw.”
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Some 30 years later, here is Kamara – who goes by “Ib” – tasked with one of the most challenging missions in the contemporary fashion industry: building legitimacy as a designer, with no prior design experience, and at the helm of the label founded by the American designer Virgil Abloh, a prolific and iconoclastic jack-of-all-trades who was appointed as the head of men’s fashion for Louis Vuitton in 2018 and died from cancer in 2021, at age 41. In his soft-spoken voice, the successor said that he didn’t hesitate about taking the job for even a second: “It’s a lot of responsibility, but the kind I treasure.” After all, who knew Abloh’s “way of thinking” better than he did? his defenders pleaded.
In 2020, “V,” as he called Virgil, solicited him directly via Instagram to offer him a job helping him as a stylist, both at Off-White and at Louis Vuitton – since July 2021 the LVMH group has been a majority shareholder with 60% of Off-White. He had to pair the right jacket with the right pants, putting together a look that contains that electrifying and photogenic je-ne-sais-quoi.
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