On a quiet Darlinghurst street last week, hundreds of young, mostly male, adults and teenagers ( many still in their school uniforms having ducked away early from school ) patiently lined up outside Dedece’s Sydney showroom for some 4-6 hours ( even as some light rain fell ) to meet their idol, Virgil Abloh, the introverted Chicago native.
They were hoping that Virgil would autograph the just released limited edition Nike x Off-White “Top Ten” icon shoes that they had collected earlier in the week ( via their very good fortune in securing a winning ticket to buy from the heavily oversubscribed ( 200 to 1 ) online raffle draw )
Virgil Abloh has a resume longer than the queues of people who wait to see him, his new collections in Paris and his plethora of collaborations.
Virgil’s vision is echoed in his careful curation of art and design works
After graduating university with a degree in civil engineering and a masters in architecture, he began working with Kanye West in the early 2000s as the rapper’s creative consultant where he continues to oversee merchandise design, album covers and tour sets; he then accompanied West to Fendi in 2009 where they both undertook a internship.
While he considers his work, whether it be his clothing line, his upcoming IKEA furniture or these Nike sneakers, to be created in a similar method to that of Marcel Duchamp, Abloh is more of a modern day Andy Warhol.
“It represents my background, which was primarily focused in modern architecture, spanning to the culture of my youth, the basis of which was streetwear, skateboarding, and graffiti.
My mission statement for curating this was finding where those two worlds met: very refined and strict, coming from a Bauhaus mentality, but with loud graphics or paintings that are expressive.”……. Virgil Abloh
Thursday the 16th of November began with a crowd of hype-clad street wear buffs queuing in unique anticipation to have their previously pre-purchased and collected Abloh-iterations of the Nike “Top Ten” kicks .
Those in line were in high spirits, with some having journeyed to Sydney from inter-state to the official Supply ” Pop Up” Store installation space thus inadvertently becoming the personification of Nike’s most fundamental principle: ‘Just Do It’.
The hype was for 10 types of sneakers Virgil has re-imagined for Nike, including words in quotations such as “Swoosh” on Chuck Taylor-style sneakers; “shoe laces” printed on…shoe laces; and “air” on the air-filled sole
The ultimate commodity in the Shoe game is rarity, and nothing improves desirability more than the promise of a very limited edition production.
The demand for his limited edition range was so enormous Supply and Nike had to stagger sales and collection times by online raffles throughout November.
The line was stacked with Sneakerheads with a keen interest in Virgil’s architectural approach towards the reconstruction of Nike’s iconic footwear kicks, as well as the potential resale gain available in the secondary sellers marketplaces ( eg Gumtree or Ebay etc )
Earlier in the week, these same kids became familiar with the story of Virgil’s involvement in the ” Top Ten ” project as outlined by Supply Store’s immersive installation designed in collaboration with Nike Australia and The Space Between creative agency
Each Shoe’s journey was highlighted from its’ starting point through to the realisation of Abloh’s creative vision; an unrepeatable chance to lift the embargo-laden veil and catch a glimpse of the inner workings of the often reticent sneaker and street wear industries.
Every detail of “The Ten” has been instilled with this openness, giving fans the chance to find newfound understanding of what truly makes a great sneaker product.
Virgil Abloh’s relationship with Nike began long before he first visited the company’s world headquarters in October 2016 to embark upon a new collaboration that would dominate the international sneaker conversation throughout 2017.
As a teenager living in Illinois – far off the premium-sneaker-beaten track he now finds himself guardian of – Virgil remembers that he and his friends would pass the time by sketching sneaker concepts and sending them to Nike.
Although then the path here was distant and unclear, the intention has existed for decades. For Virgil Abloh, this collaboration is the realisation of a life-long vision.
” The important thing about “The Ten” for me is that it’s Nike recognising its icons from the past, but showing them for the design integrity for the future. A very important postmodern idea about design, culture, innovation, and athletic performance all intertwined into one ” . ………………. Virgil Abloh
” OK I’m going to go and hang with my Kids now ” ……. Virgil spending hours meeting and chatting with Australian youth during the Supply x Nike x Off-White event – and the kids genuinely felt the honesty and respect that Vigil embodies and embraces.
NB Virgil returned unexpectedly for a second visit in the afternoon to ensure that he was available for photo opportunities and signed all the shoes for those Kids who patiently queued through the afternoon. He earnt big Kudo’s from all who attended ( both in the street queue as well as from the VIP’s in attendance )
One of Abloh’s most defining idiosyncracies is his willingness to discuss his vision and process.
This forthcoming attitude has catapulted him to prophet-like status in international street wear – a culture which is predicated on respect for those who have succeeded in the come-up.
A multidisciplinary artist, Abloh has the ability to continuously spot open lanes within culture and seamlessly fill the void.
As a result, what began as an aimless endeavor has transformed into a dominant, all-encompassing force.
“ There’s no line between a designer and consumer, I’m also a consumer.” ………….. Virgil Abloh
He’s perpetually got the distant disposition of a man who just ﬂew in from somewhere else ” ……. Zac Baron on Virgil
Virgil admits he’s rarely in town for very long.
Virgil carries his version of The Factory on his iPhone in his new season Prada bumbag (which he wears over one shoulder and across his body), instead of sketching he does most of his work in WhatsApp and in his rare downtime seeks out potential creative colleagues on Instagram.
“ I work nonstop. It’s a lifestyle, technically, I’m not even working; I’m just being creative. This is all fun for me, not stressful. ” ……….. explained Virgil Abloh, looking up from the iPhone that’s always in his hand
It’s sort of his grand project: turning his own lifestyle—350 plane rides a year, major fashion line, DJ side hustle, full-time position in Kanye’s brain trust—into something bigger, something aspirational.
He flies more than 500,000 kms a year—and in economy when he’s paying – which means he’s usually somewhere else, a traveling salesman for an idea of himself, which is a kind of accessible, aspirational citizen of the world.
Just as wearing Ralph Lauren conjures a life spent between a Madison Avenue office, a Hamptons manse, and a Colorado ranch, wearing Off-White says you log your time between airport lounges and VIP sections, hanging with models and rappers, making shit happen.
“This became my lifestyle by accident, trying to avoid a day job by having ideas. Thirty ideas a day.” ……………….Virgil Abloh
He stands tall and still in his uniform—T-Shirt (summer ) black hoodie ( winter ), ripped jeans, black sneakers. Maybe that’s your uniform, too, or some variant of it ?
If so, thank Virgil Abloh, who has spent the past ﬁve or so years developing, perfecting, and main streaming casual clothes in un-casual situations.
A way of being creative and also moving product out the door while never putting on a suit, basically. These days a hoodie is pretty much the new suit jacket, he says.
That’s what Off-White’s about.
Virgil Abloh: mastermind of fashion label Off-White, creative director for Kanye West, favored DJ of the global style set—and the role model for a new class of millennials who are allergic to the idea of a desk job
A decade ago, every scrappy young kid orbiting the music industry with a heart full of hustle and a head full of rap lyrics wanted to be a CEO, like Jay Z or Diddy. Today they all want to be a creative director.
Well, really they want to be Virgil Abloh.
“ There was couture. And then there was Yves Saint Laurent. Like, ‘Hey, news ﬂash: No one wears these clothes.’ So here comes ready-to-wear. And now: street wear. That shift in fashion? I’m pointing straight at that.”…….. Virgil Abloh
Philanthropy is another of his objectives.
With Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, he’s planning to partner on an anti-violence initiative in Chicago aimed at mentoring unemployed youth in street wear design.
“I didn’t fly here just to talk about my shoes, I want a new generation of sneaker designers, a new generation of people to do what I did.” ……………. Virgil Abloh
The prestigious annual Footwear News Achievement Awards will be held on Nov. 28 at the IAC Building in Manhattan, honoring the boldest and brightest fashion designers, both established and rising, hot influencers, visionaries and cool shoe brands.
Among the many awards of the event, the Shoe of the Year goes to Virgil Abloh’s rendition of the Air Jordan 1
The tough-to-get, limited-edition version of Abloh’s Air Jordan 1 sneaker, which is part of “The Ten Reconstructed” project developed with Nike, has sent the market in a turmoil.
The Jay is largely considered the collection’s crowning jewel. It was so highly coveted that even His Airness himself requested a pair.
He points to those in his inner circle who are impacting the music, art, and fashion worlds without being trained designers, all of them social media super-influencers.
“Those kids don’t realize the power they have, they could become more relevant than fashion brands.”
Hype will always sell a product, but by allowing for style icons to be stripped back and put back together in such a radical fashion, brands are able to test the limits of design and allow for the creation of more and more desirable products.
It is this approach to design and creation that has generated the arsenal that Nike has provided to Virgil as a canvas, the willingness to reinterpret and reinvent has afforded us products that have become icons.
Whether or not these collaborative designs will stand the test of time is down to the way in which we accept them, but I do believe that collaborations built on this level of creative freedom will provide bigger and bolder product that will surprise, divide, and inspire.
“My design team is myself, I look at Instagram all day and travel and text with friends.
“I liken streetwear to disco. When it was popping, you couldn’t tell anyone disco wasn’t the new rock ‘n’ roll. But it didn’t age that well. Streetwear lived and it died.
Now our generation is taking its ideas and mixing them with high fashion—an Hermès or a Givenchy. We’re bringing something new to the table.” ………………. Virgil Abloh
Virgil ( now 37) holds degrees in engineering and architecture but not fashion, and sees himself as part of the generation forging alternate routes to the top.
“ I don’t come from where I’m supposed to come from, so I have to prove that this is design, that this is art, that this is valid.” ………….. Virgil Abloh
His target audience is the post-Tumblr generation of kids raised on YouTube and social media who can name-check esoteric fashion brands and want to wear Off-White—or start their own labels.
“ I’m always trying to prove to my 17-year-old self that I can do creative things I thought weren’t possible, everything I do references something that influenced me.” ……. Virgil Abloh
” Street wear lives and dies, it flares up and then it goes away because street wear is so of its time” ……………. Virgil Abloh
“ The kids should see someone that can speak their language doing stuff. So that they can kind of eclipse me and beat me out and have a better project than me at Nike. Like he’s the next designer. That’s the idea.” And if one of those kids should usurp him? “Like, high-five. I’m onto something new.” ………………. Virgil Abloh
About Virgil Abloh
American designer, DJ and stylist Virgil Abloh came to prominence as Kanye West ‘s creative director.
He has since made waves in the fashion world with his luxury street wear label, Off-White.
Born in 1980 to Ghanaian parents, Abloh grew up in Chicago.
He obtained his bachelor degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002 and went on to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
After working for an architecture firm for two years, Abloh shifted his focus to fashion.
In 2009, he founded RSVP Gallery, an art gallery and menswear boutique in Chicago.
That same year, he joined Kanye West’s creative agency Donda as creative director, overseeing projects like stage shows and concert merchandise.
In 2012, Abloh launched his first fashion brand, Pyrex Vision, which screen-printed logos onto Champion t-shirts and dead stock Ralph Lauren rugby shirts.
Alongside this, he collaborated with Matthew Williams and Heron Preston as part of a collective called Been Trill.
Pyrex shuttered in 2013. That same year, Abloh launched luxury men’s and women’s streetwear label Off-White.
The Milan-based brand was picked up by stockists like Barneys and Colette, and is worn by the likes of Jay-Z, ASAP Rocky, Rihanna and Beyoncé.
In 2015, Off-White was an LVMH Prize finalist.
Alongside running his fashion brand and consulting, Abloh DJs under the alias Flat-White.