creation, curation and collaboration: virgil abloh's remixed world
After redefining the opportunities for today’s creative directors, he’s now pushing the possibilities of streetwear with OFF-WHITE.
Yeezus's most trusted disciple and a prophet to the talent of today and tomorrow, Virgil Abloh's endeavours feel like an infinite-tumblr-scroll; an ever evolving feed of collections, artwork, installations and performances. "Any great creator likes to be busy creating. For me, it's the natural state that my brain works at," he says over Skype, smiling into his iPhone camera. He is circling his New York hotel room, taking a rare breather from work. Virgil has been busy recently, even by his own standards, working on the Yeezy presentation and Skepta's mixtape drop in New York; he's presented and received massive critical acclaim for his first womenswear catwalk show in Paris, been involved in Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak performance in LA, played various DJ sets across Europe and the US as Flat White, many fashion week parties, and has no doubt dreamed up hundreds of ideas, some of which are already a reality. Virgil is the bonding agent that makes the good shit stick. "I'm just doing it because I like to stay busy and creative. If I run into someone in a club or during the day at brunch, I'm always thinking in my head, 'Man, let's do something together.' I love developing ideas. Ultimately, this became my world by accident. Trying to avoid a day job by having ideas… 30 ideas a day."
Virgil is a true creative polymath whose influences and interests span far beyond the runway, stage and speakers. How would Virgil describe himself? "It's weird. Growing up in Chicago, I used to think a designer was something that I was not. A Designer, with a capital 'D', because the great ones are on a pedestal, you can't see yourself in them," he admits, modestly. "So, I [shy] away from giving myself a title but I do like the idea of picking 'creative director'. One day, I'd love for someone to refer to me as an artist." Who would bet against him? Hungry to emulate his idol, one-of-a-kind baller Michael Jordan, he has an insatiable appetite to improve game-by-game, season-by-season. "I challenge myself every day," he says. "In a way, I feel like we're living through a modern renaissance. With the internet, a new generation of designers have the tools to create something great, and of course we're comparing our output to that of our idols." It's this hunger to be great that constantly propels Virgil and his peers forward. "It pushes us to evolve in a clever way. Ultimately, what I'm trying to do is validate the genre that I'm put in, which is streetwear." Virgil is one of the reasons why the industry is finally beginning to take streetwear seriously, so seriously in fact, that OFF-WHITE was a finalist in this year's LVMH Prize. "To me, it's the highest accolade that I could have ever asked for in a career. Some kid from Chicago that learned about fashion through shopping at Louis Vuitton, who then started putting out Pyrex 23 T-shirts which ended up evolving into OFF-WHITE, to then be validated by LVMH in any way, was groundbreaking for me," he explains. His is quite the journey, a new American dream. Despite the plaudits and accolades, Virgil is still fighting, still pushing. "Streetwear is like disco. When it started, disco was cool but the term didn't age well, and neither did the genre. All of us who are classified as streetwear, it's up to us how it's defined and that's why I hope the evolution of OFF-WHITE is so apparent. The definition of OFF-WHITE, it's the grey area between two concepts, streetwear and 'proper' fashion." With menswear remixing vintage Royal Mail uniforms and a recent catwalk debut in Paris for his womenswear, spring/summer 16 is another leap forward.
"My life was super unplanned. Once you realise you're not going to play ball, [you have] to discover everything. I found the safe haven of modern creative directing and learned the skill sets. In some ways, my life has been one big performance art project, it's not me at the centre stage but rather suggesting ideas, working on them, helping an artist share them with the world and watching the response - using that mood and feel to influence and inject new ideas," he says. Having danced just beyond the reach of the spotlight glare, Virgil Abloh has delighted in its after-glow, stitching scenes and crafting change. Now, with OFF-WHITE, he's taking centre stage. This is his moment and you get the sense that it's just the beginning. "OFF-WHITE was great for my consciousness because it gave me my own realm. For all of my collaborative projects, the unit has a say but now I have a platform to have an idea, not second guess it and share it with the world." OFF-WHITE has set Virgil free. "I feel like it has extended my life because if the world builds up it could exist long after me."
What's next? "I always considered OFF-WHITE as a lifestyle brand and these are its infant years. Men's was an obvious starting point, then women's gave me the freedom to design fully, and then furniture - that's what's next because it goes back to my original passion for 'design' design and objects, shapes and form. I'm working towards a gallery show of furniture in late 2016, early 2017 - another platform of creativity to showcase my ideas." It's clear that Virgil has his eyes firmly fixed on the horizon, leaving you wondering when, rather than if, he'll creatively conquer his next goal. With Virgil itching to get back to turning fantasies into reality, I ask him what advice he has for the next generation. "If you really want to do what you say you do, leave this conversation and do it. Go and print that T-shirt today, and by today I mean in the next 30 minutes. If you don't do it, that's your problem," he says. "If I hadn't sat on Illustrator and gone to the screen printers to make it a reality, then it wouldn't have happened - everything else is a domino effect. Pyrex, OFF-WHITE, LVMH Prize nomination, my spring/summer 16 womenswear show, it all comes from a moment that happened four years earlier in which I took an idea and got it made. It might be obvious, but for anyone reading this, finish it and then make shit happen, give it your friends and then boom, you've entered the domino effect phase." Just do it. Line them up and let that first domino drop. @virgilabloh
Text Steve Salter
Photography Stef Mitchell
Virgil wears all clothing Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh.