Virgil Abloh is the modern-day renaissance man. He’s Kanye West’s creative director; he owns the Chicago concept store RSVP Gallery; he DJs parties all over the world; and he designs and runs his luxury streetwear label Off-White. No doubt connected to his success is the fact that he’s also a natural born communicator.
He’s the kind of guy who, greeting you at his collection preview, will shake your hand and hit you with 17 facts about his new range, from the inspiration — vintage mountaineering gear — to how his favourite piece is a blush beige coat that he customized by cutting out the back, and which he expects not to sell.
We talked at his showroom in Paris today about everything from his dream customer to what he does to relax; his favourite artists to play when he’s DJing, and his plans to drop a more affordable collection.
I read the GQ interview you did with Will Welch and you mentioned that the kids might start to hate you soon. Do you worry about going out of fashion, having such a hyped brand?
Na I don’t worry about that in the slightest. I worry about not getting my ideas out. I only mentioned that because I thought it was funny not because I really care what kids think.
So whose criticism do you listen to the most?
It’s not any one particular person, it’s if it resonates and I can find something that backs it up. If someone’s like, “You shouldn’t print on this,” and then I agree or I think, ‘Oh my target demographic wouldn’t do that,’ I take heed. I like to think that I surround myself with great opinions so there are no low ones.
I’ve noticed that this collection looks a lot more wearable than your more conceptual collections in the past. Was that a conscious decision?
That was the goal. More than even designing a cool collection. The brand is rooted in a very specific subculture but my whole premise as a designer is that I want to put that subculture in the history books of fashion. So [in 50 years] if you look through some old book and it says, ‘There were these street designers that emerged in the 2000s and 2010s and they progressed into x, y, z,’ [that will be the proof that I achieved my goal]. We know that the street thing is going to be written but we don’t know if any of us in this category are going to be the next McQueen or the next Raf. That is the challenge.
You must have amazing access to famous people all around the world, but do you have a dream customer in mind?
For me it’s that casual LA dude who’s going shopping and sees a cool flannel; or it’s the kid in Paris who’s going to St Tropez next week and needs a floral shirt and buys my one. I’m trying to design pieces that come from streetwear so the whole thing is, like, ‘Get it now, because it’s never going to come again.’
I’ve interviewed a few people over the course of fashion week who travel nonstop like you do and they’ve all been saying the same thing about how lonely they get on the road. How do you deal with it?
I’m well connected with all my friends and family via text message. I don’t feel lonely, because I always have meetings so I’m never really by myself. I get the most amount of work done when I’m by myself so I wish I was alone more often (laughs).
I follow you on Instagram and your life looks pretty busy — you’re travelling, you’re DJing, you’re taking meetings and you’re designing — what do you do to relax?
I don’t really relax. That’s why we’re designers. We’re tormented by ideas. I can’t sit blankly for 10 minutes, there’s always something to do. But that’s why I started this as another career. I needed to burn off all this energy.
What are the three songs you’re playing the most right now?
I have this folder of personal favourites and usually I’m playing these parties that are rap or house or something but every time I get to a James Blake or a King Krule or a Radiohead song I feel like I’ve reached my personal apex. I try to find some way to sneak it in. So that’s how you can really tell if I’m having fun because I’ll play a random song that people who are out that late would never hear. I mix it straight in and that’s the whole magic — people are dancing to their favourite rap song, like Migos, and then Radiohead comes on playing at the same tempo. If I was out listening to that I’d lose my mind.
Awesome. What’s your favourite Instagram account that you follow?
It’d be Jjjjound.
It’s a pretty crazy colour, it’s like a blush beige.
That whole colour story there is like, personal only. That shit doesn’t sell. You have to have the right skin tone to wear that palette.
So with that in mind, Off-White is a higher priced brand, do you ever want to do stuff that’s a more accessible price range for younger kids or for people who can’t afford it?
Right now I can’t be concerned about price. I know I’m designing for certain stores and a certain customer, but more than that I’m designing for personal satisfaction with each piece. When it comes to price point — most people, myself included before, are used to going to a store and judging things by how much they cost. But if you’ve ever made anything — and I own a store too — you’ll realize very quickly why stuff costs what it does. This fabric [points to a wool flannel shirt] costs more per yard than it costs to buy a flannel shirt in a store, but I liked it. But yeah, I’m working on projects in that realm.
You mean something you’ve got something more affordable coming out?
Anything you can talk about?
Maybe [laughs]… I’m a graphic T-shirt artist. Besides all this, I’m more into graphic T-shirts than anything else so I have something in that realm that I’ll unveil at a certain point.
Watch this space.
Special thanks to Michael Dumler of On Abbot Kinney fame for the photos!
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