Virgil Abloh is considered the new Wunderkind of the fashion biz. His brand Off-White, that was established in 2013 combines ’90s inspired New York street styles with tailored menswear and is especially made for the emerging young clientele of Generation Y. Sportswear International met Abloh during Pitti Uomo in Florence to learn about his democratic approach toward fashion and talk with him about his favorite role of being an outsider in the business.
How would you describe your approach toward fashion and the philosophy of your brand?
For me, Off-White is a creative studio, a recording system of time and culture, politics and art. I didn’t understand the fashion industry when I was younger, so I wanted to start a brand that is more democratic than other high fashion labels and only made for the young consumer. With Off-White, I want to reach the generation of the millennials. They have different needs and different cultural codes: They wear a T-shirt or a hoodie like a formal shirt or jacket. So my approach is marked by a conceptual and deconstructive attitude, questioning the conventions of the industry and refusing to take the traditions of tailoring and construction for granted.
“You are obviously in the wrong place.” At your first show in Paris, you quoted the film Pretty Women. Do you feel in the right place in fashion scene now? Or is being an outsider the new status symbol?
Yes, for sure! I wanted to implement my subculture in high fashion. This idea gave me the motivation to make the concept for Off-White. And to be honest: Three years ago, no one could tell, if street fashion would last or not.
How do you transform your philosophy into real clothes?
My question is: How can you wear a tailored jacket and think about it from a young person’s perspective? So what you see concerns fabrication, silhouette adjustment and new exaggerating looks: I try to get the classical shapes to a new direction. If you study one of my tailored jackets, a lot of my vocabulary is the idea of invisible zippers giving a garment more ways to be worn. People who are wearing my brand, kids from Prince and Mercer for example, are able to style themselves; they don’t want to follow a fashion dictate. If a jacket costs €1000 or €2000 it really should be different than the other jackets in your closet.
Talking about prices and fabrication: Are all of your styles made in Italy?
That’s why we founded the studio in Milan. The idea was: Bringing an American spirit, a New York lifestyle, to Europe. A collection made in Italy with an American aesthetic, which means the best made product in terms of fashion but with an up-to-date modern approach. There is no other place on earth where you can make a tailored jacket with the preciseness and all the handmade details that I am looking for. My favorite suppliers are very small Italian companies that work on a really high level. This is the state-of-the-art of the concept.
Do you see yourself rather as a fashion designer or an artist?
I am not the kind of person who is painting in his studio, of course. But within the Instagram generation there is no strict rule. The millenial spirit is: One day you are a stylist, one day you are an art director. Those kids are not waiting for a title to explain who they are. They just do things. I only consider myself as a creative person. Maybe I am an artist, and just use different media to express myself. In 2019 I will do a museum show in Chicago that will display 14 years of my work. It will include furniture that has never been seen, architectural work and art direction that I haven’t shown before. The people of the museum have recognized that the next contemporary artist doesn’t look like the last contemporary artist.
You are using fashion as a vehicle of a very political message. What do you think about politics of your country?
I have a very particular viewpoint on politics. It is from a young perspective. I feel helpless, but I realize, that I am not helpless if I raise my voice. So I simply say: Please treat all races, all humanity in a respectful way. I personally feel pretty much in the middle of all extremes in America. As an artist, I do my work and people who look at it find their answers themselves. I do not want to explain myself and my work, as I am not a politician. I think listening is the first key to understanding.Editor's note: Over the years, Abloh has collaborated with multiple artists such as Nick Knight, Riccardo Tisci, Kim Jones, Takashi Murakami, Olivier Rousteing, Giuseppe Zanotti, George Condo. He also worked with Silvia Venturini at Fendi.