We are extremely grateful that we got the opportunity to talk to someone we admire on both a professional and artistic level. Virgil Abloh is one of the great cultural innovators of our times.
First of all, can I say: Virgil Abloh has the best laugh. His smile is super charming, but it's his lol that gets me. It's a sort of gentle chuckle that compensates for his intimidating stature and status. As the creative director of both OFF-WHITE, his men's and womenswear clothing line and the Kanye West- founded creative content company DONDA, he is responsible for one of the most remarkable ascends these past couple of years in both fashion and design. In 2015 alone, Virgil was a finalist for the acclaimed LVMH-prize together with in-crowd-darlings Vetements and eventual laureates Marques'Almeida and Jacquemus ; he opened up the first OFF-WHITE brick & mortar in Hong Kong and conceptualized his premier womenswear runway show at Paris Fashion Week. All while also having a hand in the best album art direction of the year with Travi$ Scott's "Rodeo" and the best T.V. performance/set design of the year with best friend Kanye West's live rendition of "All Day" at the 2015 Brit Awards.
I am nervous to sit down with Virgil, not so much because I am a fan of his work, but also because as one of the exclusive invitees of the night, I am also one of the few editors who is actually interviewing him. Tonight, I am mostly surrounded by my peers. Cool kids I really appreciate like unique DJ and musical prodigy Nosedrip, photographer & promotor Nicolas Lefébure, the funny dudes from Pelican Fly and my friend A Cut Above founder FLO. As they are only there to hang out and don't have to actually work, instead of using the twenty minutes before the interview to focus and breathe, I shoot the shit with these top dudes that I don't get to see that often. No regrets, because the man from Chicago, Ill. turns out every bit the inspiring guy I expect him to be. In regards to content creation and graphic design, he's already on top. When it comes to his passion for clothes, Virgil's all about doing him and it won't be long until you will hear him swish non-stop . You know the sound: nothing but net.
Here's what we talked about :
KNOTORYUS : It is so great to finally meet you. I was actually the first one to talk about you in the Belgian press ever. In 2009 when Kanye, you, Don C, Taz Arnold,... visited Paris Fashion Week I got your picture in the national newspaper because I linked it to the shoe 'Ye designed for Louis Vuitton.
VIRGIL ABLOH : Oh word? What did you do, like an article? That's dope.
KNOTORYUS : Then we wrote about it on our own blog and Kanye put it on KanyeUniverseCity.com and linked us. Our site exploded.
VIRGIL ABLOH : (laughs) Loads of traffic. I can imagine. That was some time ago, right?
KNOTORYUS : It was back in 2009.
VIRGIL ABLOH : Yes, wow, when you think about it, ours has been a long journey in fashion.
KNOTORYUS : We have been rooting for all of you all along. I really want to focus on Off-White for now, though. You had an amazing year. You were a finalist for the LVMH-Prize, opened your first store in Hong Kong, got great features and reviews in the specialized press ...
VIRGIL ABLOH : It's nuts. To be honest, I don't really read most of the reviews or articles. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I just try to get my ideas to come through. That's more pressure than anyone could ever put me under. I'm not really thinking about what I'm going to achieve with the results. It takes so many steps to get to that larger goal, so I focus on the mini-steps. Accolades are great, but still live short of what I see in my head. The process motivates me, I'm excited about the evolution and building something special.
KNOTORYUS : Are you starting to trust the process and therefore yourself as well? In the beginning you got a lot of pushback. At first the ancient powers of fashion were mad about "Kanye, the rapper" trying to break into their world, then his entourage started to design? What sacrilege.
VIRGIL ABLOH : For sure. I think that I'm a testament to the success of taking bite-size portions, learning while you can and then after a while taking bigger more ambitious steps. But it started so long ago : whether it was making a few Pyrex t-shirts and selling those and learning how to message those. Plus, I had to find out what I was into.
KNOTORYUS : What is the bigger goal fashion-wise?
VIRGIL ABLOH : I want to create on the highest platform. I want to go to the fashion Olympics. I did my womenswear show during Paris Fashion Week in September. Out of the highlights of the year, it was most definitely doing that instead of just a presentation. That was a life-highlight, to prepare a collection and show it in a way that was similar to a "real fashion show".
KNOTORYUS : With DONDA you and the rest of the team create amazing things. Is conceptualizing a show for Off-White more difficult, because it's more personal?
VIRGIL ABLOH : It's a whole different animal. Off-White is my blank canvas. I can be the editor of my own ideas. It's a form of truly expressing myself. There is no over-thinking. In the comfort of my own head, what do I see? I often had thought about it : "If I would do a fashion show, it would go like this." And now I did it.
VIRGIL ABLOH : Kanye is my mentor. I think he's a generation's mentor. Before I met him, I wasn't even interested in being creative. I thought I was just going to work some regular job. My background is in architecture, so I was really going to be that. When I studied architecture and learned about great thinkers that came before, I think that was really important with what I'm doing now.
KNOTORYUS : What kind of upbringing did you have?
VIRGIL ABLOH : My parents are from Ghana, West-Africa. They both just had a dream of making it to America and to then have a kid that was American. I had an awesome upbringing and I find that they gave me the skill-set to do exactly what I want to do.
KNOTORYUS : Did that dream also include traveling the world, as anyone following you on Instagram can see?
VIRGIL ABLOH : I didn't have a crazy ambition to travel, but my interests were always very broad, which is bound to take you many places. When I was younger, I was into DJ'ing, graffiti, hip hop, skateboarding and I love it that now I can just take my passport and hop on a plane and go see what's up with those scenes everywhere.
KNOTORYUS : We need to talk about Justin Bieber, Virgil. He is absolutely killing this reinvention. I think he hasn't dropped one bad track or video during this streak and it seems he wants to mostly wear Off-White while doing it. How do you feel about that?
VIRGIL ABLOH : I absolutely agree. Justin's evolution needs to go noticed. That is why I spoke about his latest video on Instagram. People are so bored. No one is getting off the couch and saying : hey, I'm going to make the best pop music, or I'm going to make the best art. So when someone is actually doing just that, I feel it should be applauded.
KNOTORYUS : You are surrounded by all of the greats, young and a little less so. There's Travi$ Scott now, Kanye of course. Does that motivate you to keep pushing?
VIRGIL ABLOH : My crew and I -meaning those people you just mentioned-, we are just motivated by living. We just want to make great and beautiful things. We love having active years of creativity. I think that is super important.
KNOTORYUS : I wasn't going to bring it up, because I didn't know whether you would want to talk about it, but then you called tonight's installation "White-House", so technically you made me.
KNOTORYUS : Here goes. If you are going to be in the White House when your best friend becomes president, what would be the first bill that you would try to push?
VIRGIL ABLOH : Wow, that's a big question! I haven't thought about that yet. I'm a bit naïve in general, so I probably think better of the world than it actually is. Separation of church and state is important. On one hand I would want to push something that makes it easier for artists to be artists, but on the other hand a lot of the time artists become who they are because they have something to battle against. If everything is more utopian, I don't know if art would be better. It might be worse. I don't know, I need to think about your question.
KNOTORYUS : Ok, but remember 2020 is not that far away.
VIRGIL ABLOH : I know!
KNOTORYUS : How do you feel about Kanye running for president.
VIRGIL ABLOH : I think it's perfect. I think he already has been one. He's a global leader. I think that he's beyond politics. Because his music and actions have led a generation, so to me he's already won that. But I think it's awesome. He's a visionary. He's also more intelligent than the obvious parallels people draw. Everyone has their opinion, but I know that he's even more intelligent than even the people who support him think.
KNOTORYUS : I know how I feel when someone talks trash about my best friends, does it bother you when they talk bad about Kanye?
VIRGIL ABLOH : Our crew is irreverent. There is nothing people can say or think about us that will affect where we are going. We're a different breed. We don't seek any value in their opinions. There are so many people dying, there are products that suck out there. I'm not saying we always have the best products on the market, but we learn on the job. And we are trying everyday.
We don't sit around to critique, we create.
KNOTORYUS : Perfect ending. I appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me.
VIRGIL ABLOH : Anytime. It was a pleasure.
OFF-WHITE FW 15-16 Men's & Women's is available at SMETS PREMIUM STORE, BRUSSELS
Thank you to the SMETS family for inviting me and for always supporting my editorials. (<3 Damien!)
Thank you Ouni for producing this super fun evening and for taking care of us misfits.
Thank you to everyone at the cool kids/special problems table for the belly laughs.
Images of the event by @lukaorluca for SMETS