Born: September 30, 1980 (Rockford, Illinois) Nationality: American Lives: Chicago Education: University of Wisconsin, Madison (Civil Engineering), Illinois Institute of Technology (Masters in Architecture)
Time was, one couldn’t speak of Virgil Abloh without mentioning his work with Kanye West in the same breath. Now with his label Off-White garnering critical acclaim and sell-out success, the multidisciplinary creative is forging a path of his own independent of contemporary culture’s most divisive figure. Where having designs on a career in fashion is concerned, it looks as though Virgil Abloh is coming close to eclipsing the ambition of West. That’s no small feat when you consider the latter’s ambition, near ubiquitous presence and monolithic imprint on pop culture.
"Leveraging a reputation built on his initial ventures into graphics-based streetwear, Abloh has fast fashioned for himself a position at the intersection of high fashion and low culture where his label, Off-White, effortlessly channels the in-between."
Born in 1980, Abloh grew up idolising Michael Jordon in Rockford, Illinois, before studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A requirement for an arts credit lead Abloh to study visual art, then onto a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. It was there that he experienced the kind of collaborative work that has gone on to define his career, while studying a curriculum devised by Mies van der Rohe, the third and final director of the Bauhaus movement on a campus that the renowned architect designed. Time spent studying architecture has proven to be a funnel through which Abloh now siphons his work in fashion, music, art and as a kind of ambassador for the disparate elements of youth culture.
CREDIT: @off___white on Instagram
A dynamic creative polymath, Abloh has worked as an architect, creative director, graphic designer, and continues to travel ceaselessly in his capacity as a DJ who feverishly devours culture the world over. In 2002, Abloh left his job as a project manager at an architecture firm to become West’s creative director – an ongoing role that sees him art directing global tours, performances, artwork and merchandise for the 21-time Grammy award-winning artist. As West’s right-hand-man, Abloh also works as the multi-hyphenate creative director of West’s creative collective, DONDA.
"In 2009, Abloh co-founded RSVP Gallery with Marc Moran and another of West’s cohorts, Don C. A concept store with high art ambitions, RSVP bills itself as an inclusive luxury boutique come art gallery with pop art persuasions."
In 2010, both West and Abloh expressed an interest in pursuing a formal fashion education at Central Saint Martins under the tutelage of the legendary Professor Louise Wilson OBE, the late head of the masters course that has produced many of the designers who today constitute the reigning fashion establishment: Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Simone Rocha and Roksanda Ilincic amongst them. Alexander McQueen, Alber Elbaz and Riccardo Tisci also rank amongst her former students. Wilson famously rejected both West and Abloh before imploring them to further hone their plans for West’s label, DW Kanye West. Both went on to complete internships at Fendi before embarking on an arguably ill-fated two-season foray into ready-to-wear, showing at Paris Fashion Week in 2011 and 2012. The subject of considerable criticism, neither collection was produced for sale.
CREDIT: @off___white on Instagram
In 2012, Abloh began collaborating with Matthew Williams, Justin Saunders and Heron Preston on #BEEN #TRILL, a DONDA offshoot and a music and fashion collective whose output was comprised of heavily branded streetwear inspired by youthful rebellion. In December of that same year, Abloh also launched Pyrex Vision, a transitional art-fashion project that bridged the gap between his work at the former label and eventually inspired Off-White. Pyrex’s first collection, The Youth Will Always Win, established the ethos that continues to inform his design work. Following the closure of Ralph Lauren’s now defunct Rugby line, Abloh bought the brand’s remaining deadstock and began printing the brand’s name and the number ‘23’ (Michael Jordan’s number) on the back in his signature block text. Their original tags removed, Abloh sold the garments at a drastically inflated price point – $40 increased to $550 – and in doing so incurred considerable criticism and hype in equal measure. Pyrex’s initial run sold out, but due to copyright issues the name can no longer be used and the label was shut down after only a year.
CREDIT: Supplied via Off-White
In late 2013, Abloh debuted his first menswear collection for Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh (hereafter Off-White), Spring/Summer 2014’s Youth Will Always Win. Largely comprised of Pyrex-redolent flannelettes and sweatshirts, the first collection established many of what would become Off-White’s codes, namely an emphasis on distinctive graphics and prominent branding. Bold logos and artful layers of mixed textiles were arranged almost as if they were targets for street style photographers – thick, white plastisol stripes whose real world analogues are found in construction sites were plastered across crotches, calves and shoulder blades. Named for the colour of a blank canvas and Class-A narcotics alike, Off-White marries the prevailing high-low mentality with the attitude of street reportage. Based out of a Milan atelier, the label’s product offering extends to furniture and ready-made goods that are informed by influences as diverse as hip-hop culture, Martha Stewart, the work of Caravaggio and Raf Simons, as well as James Jebbia’s seminal New York clothing brand Supreme and Shawn Stussy’s namesake label.
CREDIT: @off___white on Instagram
Off-White’s cerebral pastiche and conflation of haute couture with streetwear recalls the collaged aesthetic favoured by the Tumblr generation, where the codes of collegiate dressing meets their antithesis in challenging baroque proportions and shredded denim inlaid with organza. As Off-White has evolved, and in light of its Paris Fashion Week debut for Spring/Summer 2016, so too has the notion that it remains true street wear.
Ambitious in their scope and willing to challenge established conventions, Off-White is one of few fledging labels in a new school devoted to restoring the frisson to fashion, including Pigalle, Astrid Anderson, Nasir Mazhar, and Shayne Oliver’s Hood By Air, for whom Abloh used to design graphics. In February 2015, Abloh launched his first bricks and mortar flagship store in Hong Kong. One month later, Off-White was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize as the competition’s only American finalist. Though he did not win, Abloh’s success is proof positive that, if anything, the youth will always win.