Somebody pinch Colm Dillane. Just 18 months after winning the runner-up award at the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, the Brooklyn, New York-based designer was at Paris Fashion Week to present the collection he codesigned for Louis Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury brand.
“I was more shocked than even you were,” Dillane said backstage before the show, a collective effort that also featured a performance by Spanish singer Rosalía, and a set design and film by French directors Michel and Olivier Gondry, inspired by their memories of growing up.
Dillane, the founder and creative director of the KidSuper label, came to the table with a 500-page book of ideas, but Vuitton’s in-house team had already designed a large portion of the collection, which revolved loosely around the theme of connectivity. “I was there to add story, add a little bit of spice and fantasy,” he said.
Inspired by the brand’s history of travel, he asked members of the multicultural design studio to write letters in their mother tongues. The missives were embroidered and assembled into a whimsical millefeuille suit, and reproduced in leather, appearing to spill out of wallets and bags.
Dillane, who frequently incorporates his paintings into his clothes, was able to push the technique to its luxurious extreme with a tapestry-style jacquard coat.
While that’s likely to remain a special-order piece, his camouflage face print, blended with Vuitton’s signature monogram, offered plenty of commercial mileage. The distinctive motif appeared on everything from workwear pants to Keepall bags, in addition to a stunning embossed leather and suede jacket.
Those pieces stood out in a lineup that offered a solid mix of Vuitton’s familiar cartoonish tailoring, spliced with digital glitch effects and Surrealist details, like extra sleeves that cinched the waist of a burgundy suit jacket, and double-layered coats with peel-off shoulders. It was just as well, since the show was essentially Dillane’s audition for a full-time job.
Recruited by outgoing Louis Vuitton chairman and chief executive officer Michael Burke, he is now at the mercy of Burke’s successor, Pietro Beccari. The Italian executive may well want to put his own stamp on the house by confirming a permanent successor to Virgil Abloh, whose untimely death in November 2021 left Vuitton without a creative director of menswear.
“I don’t know how many shots I’ll get at this, so I wanted to really implement that Colm was here,” Dillane said.
Mapping out his vision for the house, he pointed to his strong skill for storytelling and working as part of a collective. Dillane recently signed a lease for a 10,000-square-foot space in Brooklyn that he plans to use as a base for his creative factory, which will have a soccer pitch, recording studio and filmmaking room.
“The legacy of Virgil, you can’t ignore it and I was definitely not trying to ignore it,” he said. “He has a crazy shadow and crazy shoes to fit in but for me, it’s like, OK, whoever does this [had] better live life to the fullest, and better push for the craziest ideas. And if you look at the landscape of fashion, there’s not many people living life or pushing more than me.
“That’s not a brag. That’s just kind of a fact. I’m not saying I’m better or worse than anyone, but I am trying to push the limits,” he said.
Dillane’s lightning trajectory recalls Abloh’s own vertiginous ascent, with the key difference that Abloh was part of a circle of hip creatives gravitating around rapper Kanye West, while Dillane has clawed his way up with no industry connections.
“I’m now in the fashion world. You know, I felt always really like an outsider, not begrudgingly, just truly not knowing anyone, like not knowing who to text, not even understanding what PR is,” he said. “I’m that guy that I used to look at and be like, ‘How the f–k did he get there?’”
His stint at Vuitton has taught him a new way of using his creativity. “It’s way easier to design for LV. I don’t do as much. In the KidSuper world, I’m like picking the buttons, painting the artwork that goes on it, talking to the factories, staying up all night, styling the looks. So here, I could do, like, 50 collections in a week. It’s really concepts,” he said.
“The thing that I really would spend time on is these shows. I didn’t get to participate too much in that, but that’s something that would keep me up for months because you have so much resources, so much exposure,” he added.
Regardless of what Vuitton decides, the future is looking bright for Dillane. “I’m so, so grateful,” he said. “If it continues, if it doesn’t continue, I’ve definitely reached a different echelon either way, and now other brands are looking at me.”