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Art of Style

The designer interview: Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh with model Ting Chen, both wearing Off-White

What drives one of fashion’s most relentless innovators and creators? Off-White’s VIRGIL ABLOH, master of the unexpected, sits down with EMMA SELLS to talk Kanye, craft and shaking up the establishment

Photography Hasse NielsenStyling Marian Nachmia
Fashion
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The word ‘disruptor’ doesn’t sit well with me because it’s not articulating exactly my frame of mind. I stay away from words, I’m more about actions. A body of work is what I focus on

His shows are cultural phenomena, both on the streets outside and in backstage areas heaving with Supreme-clad fans. His innovative approach means that, if you scan through any interview or profile on him, the word ‘disruptor’ will crop up at least once – not that he would use it himself. “The word ‘disruptor’ doesn’t sit well with me because it’s not articulating exactly my frame of mind,” he explains. “I stay away from words, I’m more about actions. Words are often just another box to be put in. That’s why I focus on making things because those aren’t so descriptive. A body of work is what I focus on. The name ‘Off-White’ is my measuring stick: it’s not black or white, it’s not gray either, it’s a way to be in-between. It’s fine to be in-between. It’s fine to not be so exact.”

It’s hard to think of Abloh as an outsider now that he boasts both a credible self-built label and a job at one of the biggest heritage brands around. The days when he, West and their crew pitched up to Paris Fashion Week, dressed to the nines (see the now legendary Tommy Ton-snapped street-style picture) and hoping to hustle their way into shows, are the dim and distant past. “I would agree, for starters, that I am a part of the establishment [now],” he says, “but it’s not just me, it’s a whole generation. There’s more than just one person – those that are in their thirties practicing creativity, we all are the establishment, so things will start to take shape and look different.”

When he started Off-White back in 2013 on the back of an art-meets-fashion project, Pyrex Vision, Abloh’s name and aesthetic were synonymous with streetwear, and the label’s geometric logo became a badge of honor. Along with that other prolific agitator, Demna Gvasalia at Vetements, he elevated the genre to such cult luxury status that swathes of women usually more inclined towards blow-dries and high heels were suddenly throwing on hooded sweatshirts and long-sleeved T-shirts. But a canny marketeer alongside everything else, Abloh had the good sense to move on before the fashion crowd did; last season he used Princess Diana as his muse, and FW18 serves up feminine separates and checked tailoring perfect for a modern take on the working wardrobe.

“Streetwear has a million definitions, but for me it’s another word for ‘naturally occurring’,” he says. “Seeing street things on the runway, at a certain time in fashion, was intriguing and interesting to me. But then, over time, that quickly changed. It wasn’t as striking as it became the norm and I then started being more inspired by taking ready-to-wear and making it more street, switching the ratio.”

From left: SS16, FW16, SS17, SS18, FW18, SS19
I am a part of the establishment [now], but it’s not just me, it’s a whole generation. Those that are in their thirties practicing creativity, we all are the establishment, so things will start to take shape and look different

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