virgil abloh on fashioning the future for the post-internet generation
Meandering out of a maze of trade show exhibitors and the fanfare of Copenhagen fashion fair, a quiet enclave of CIFF's Crystal Hall has been transformed to celebrate two fashion creators and movement shapers. Two exhibitions, side by side, offer the...
As cameras circulate the space, capturing both familiar and fresh moments in time, Virgil is quietly sat immersed in his debut exhibition. An extension of OFF-WHITE'S spring/summer 15 collection, Industrial By Nature is a multi-sensory installation that gives the notion of being on a beach using man made triggers. Misting fans, layered with sounds of the seaside, visual projections of the ocean and four tonnes of sand create a curated atmosphere. It is the latest OFF-WHITE world, a man made microcasm loaded with the personality, influences and energy of this streetwear heavyweight. With waves lapping at our ears, Virgil discusses creative freedom, tumblr and becoming the post-Internet generation's Malcolm McLaren.
When did you arrive in Copenhagen?
I got in two days ago from Tokyo and I return to Tokyo soon but all that flying is worth it, it's my first art exhibition.
It makes perfect sense for OFF-WHITE.
It's more exciting to me. For my previous work in creative direction it has always been about creating experiences, from albums to stages to fashion shows, but always for somebody else. This has been one of the first opportunities that I've been able to apply those skills set to my own work.
"The vision for OFF-WHITE is men's, women's, furniture. It's the full lifestyle; the guy, the girl and their possessions. That's tumblr man, your favourite blog will have a cool couch on it too."
How does complete creative freedom feel?
It's just amazing to have the opportunity to express yourself, one day it's just the clothes and an empty space, the next it's two tonnes of sand, four fans and a whole world, it's a creative person's dream.
The brand name itself is a play on blank canvas. For many creatives, the very idea of starting work on a blank canvas is the most difficult process. Do you see it differently?
I work in constraint. My work is always about juxtaposition, that's my number one point of reference. If someone asks me to design something, I'm going to analyse what they're into and subvert a way to communicate their ideas, for example by using a font that they might be repulsed by. It's modern design. OFF-WHITE in its existence and by its nature is a commentary on what's happening and employing juxtaposition when needed.
There's natural synergy with rising like-minded brands such as Hood by Air, Marcelo Burlon, Astrid Andersen, Nasir Mazhar. How does it feel to be part of this new movement of elevated sportswear?
Man, I love it. We represent the same spirit but we're all individuals and have our own tribes. In a sense, I liken it to the Antwerp Six. There's a new opinion emerging that's coming out of Chicago, New York, Milan and London - all at the same time.
How has this new guard emerged?
If you look at our histories, we've all made an attempt at this before, we've been players but it's a natural cultural shift and it goes beyond three people. It's a new genre forming driven by people who have figured out a model to infect trends and retail them to create a new uniform.
"There's a new opinion emerging that's coming out of Chicago, New York, Milan and London - all at the same time."
Is the internet the catalyst?
Exactly. It's the post-tumblr age. Instagram moves faster than Vogue. Of course, I love Vogue but it's a new era of an educated consumer, I've always learned by window shopping and buying. I fell in love with fashion after encountering Kris Van Assche's first menswear collection. That led me to pore through style.com, then researching Raf and buying into that, going further down the path. With the internet and tumblr specifically, it's going to be remembered as the era of high/low. it used to be couture, then ready-to-wear but now, and I'd argue it's a significant phase, clothes have been democratised, they're a tool of expression. You can say, 'I'm going to wear a Céline jacket with Air Force 1s,' and that speaks precisely to my personality.
Not only is this visible on the streets and in clubs but it's something Phoebe Philo herself might do. It's authentic.
Precisely and that's where OFF-WHITE begins. It's then men's, women's, furniture, it's the full lifestyle; the guy, the girl and their possessions. That's tumblr man, your favourite blog will have a cool couch on it too. OFF-WHITE can be worn as a total uniform because I'm into monochromatic outfits but each piece is so loaded that they can be worn with something else. It can be free.
"Malcolm McLaren was doing things that were just so right for the time and I'd like to do something for today's post-Internet generation."
You posted a clip from one of the archive films playing at LET IT ROCK: The Look Of Music, The Sound Of Fashion to Instagram recently. How have you found being alongside such an archive? Did you encounter his work previously?
It's a gift. From the first Kris Van Assche collection that inspired me and the path I travelled since, there's certain names that you encounter as you go deeper into the culture and Malcolm McLaren was one of those names. I lived with Kim Jones for a summer in Maida Vale and this was during my BAPE era but his archive pieces were amazing, some of them are here now. It wasn't a direct reference to me but now, having spent hours alongside these pieces, reading every single card in here, I find reassuring similarities.
What are the most reassuring similarities?
His approach of appropriating influences and collaging cultures. He wasn't calculated and neither am I. I'm into trap, broken beat, house, jungle and I want a brand that just does rap parties. What Malcolm believed in and what I do to, is that it's about influence culture and design, helping to draw a line in the sand around real things that are happening in the zeitgeist. It goes beyond your own name, it's about sharing ideas and collaborating to realise ideas. He was doing things that were just so right for the time and I'd like to do something for today's post-internet generation.
Text Steve Salter
Photography Nabile Quenum