In 2009, a pre-MAGA Kanye West attended Paris Fashion Week with close friends and collaborators Virgil Abloh, Don C, Taz Arnold, Chris Julian, and Fonzworth Bentley. While outside the Comme des Garçons Homme show, street style photographer Tommy Ton snapped a photo of the group. That photo has since been widely shared and was even featured on an episode of South Park. You know the one:
At the time the photo was taken, many of those guys hadn't become what they are today—Abloh a fashion designer and men's artistic director at Louis Vuitton, Don C a fashion and sneaker designer, etc. But it captured a special moment in the 2000s when guys like West and Abloh, who were up on high-fashion brands and labels many in hip-hop didn't even know, were trying to break through and be a part of the fashion industry.
So, we couldn't pass up an opportunity to ask Abloh about that photo, which coincidentally was taken exactly 10 years ago yesterday. At a press event for his upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago held in New York Thursday morning, Abloh spoke about what that photo signified and what it means to him now, especially given all his and the group's success since.
"We thought that since it was Fashion Week, we deserved to be there and what the photo captured is sort of, like, proper tourism," Abloh told Complex's Karizza Sanchez and Gerald Flores Thursday, as seen in our video below. "Looks like a tourist to a purist event. What's intriguing is, obviously, it was me and some friends but most of us were from Chicago which I think is an important message . . . Chicago's always bred like a certain type of artist. This particular city that has almost, like, a quiet aggression or impact. We knew we were tourists but we knew that purists needed to sort of see us. Technically, in those days there were no photographers out front. There were no influencers. There was no one. It was sort of like, 'Why are you here? You're not supposed to be in here, but I guess you can come in with security.'"
As for what that photo now represents 10 years later, Abloh said it speaks to his overall dedication to a philosophy of creative optimism. "What makes that photo resurfacing interesting is I couldn't even get into a Louis Vuitton show at that point, you know," he said. "Like, going into a store sometimes could have been difficult . . . I'm an optimist. I believe that art and good nature can actually change the world. I refuse to believe the opposite. So, that photo represents to me what may seemingly be impossible is possible. I didn't think I would be the head of Louis Vuitton then but I knew it was possible."
Once the photo made it to South Park, Abloh knew they had carved out a special place in fashion lroe. "When that photo ended up on South Park, we knew it was a pop culture moment," he said.
Tommy Ton offered his own take on the photo's cultural importance Wednesday. "I don't think anyone could have predicted how much this group of men would manifest in the next ten years," he said. "These guys are a true testament that sticking to your guns and fighting for what you believe in will lead to greatness."