Virgil Abloh: Kanye West Is A Pioneer
It’s store-opening number seven for Off-White and the multi-hyphenate Virgil Abloh made sure he’s accessible to as many people as possible. Which meant, press interviews, fan meet-and-greets and an after-party DJ set at Zouk publicised in typical Virgil Abloh-fashion; Instagram.
We sat in a hidden corner of Singapore’s first Off-White store for this interview. The 160sqm space is referred to as “WINDOWS” and features concrete walls with movable display fixtures surrounding a plant centrepiece and is bathed in lights mimicking natural lighting. Abloh finds it funny that “WINDOWS” will be neighbours with the Apple store that’s set to open in November at Knightsbridge. “That’s the Off-White idea,” he said.
Just like Off-White the label, Virgil Abloh stands in a grey area of existence; you can’t clearly define him. He’s Kanye West’s creative director, he does music and deejays often, and he’s the founder and designer for Off-White. How exactly does he find the time to do everything? He said he works on deadlines and doesn’t really sleep much. It also explains why throughout the interview, he was splitting his time between answering questions and fiddling with his phone (at one point, I caught him using the Chase app).
“My design process is very non-linear. Like for example, I decide to do a men’s collection one day and then suddenly, I find myself in a situation where the designs are due and then make some s*** up that’s hopefully good,” he laughed.
And they have been good. In three short years, Virgil Abloh has transformed his passion for fashion into a streetwear phenomenon. Off-White has been seen on hip-hop’s elites the likes of Drake, Chris Brown as well as power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé. In fact, hours before I was scheduled for the interview, there was already a line of ardent Off-White fans queuing outside the store to purchase a limited edition T-shirt that would score them a one-on-one with Abloh.
"I didn’t get the memo that fashion was still closed doors. My brand is based on the youth energy and if they came all the way only to be turned down because they're not "invited", that makes me a hypocrite." - Virgil Abloh on why he publicises every show on Instagram.
The Illinois-born creative is used to all the hype and publicity. Every attention-grabbing idea of Kanye West’s that has been criticised, ridiculed and left many dumbfounded is part of Abloh’s repertoire.
“Kanye’s quite a polarising public figure. Have you always backed him up or have there been instances where you’ve had to reel him in?” I asked, after giving him a heads-up that I was going to step into a potentially touchy subject.
“He’s my mentor. He paved the way for the current state of thinking about clothing. You literally can’t say one negative thing about him. I mean, the public can but I haven’t met one pioneer who represented people who didn’t know what they were missing out on till Kanye. Fashion wasn’t for you and I. He stood on the face of that through his celebrity status, opened doors and shifted the dynamic to where we’re at now,” Abloh explained. And with that, I struck off further Kanye West-related questions.
Off-White doesn’t come up as often as label-of-the-moment Vetements. But it’s not difficult to see similarities between the two. Abloh credited that to being in similar social circles as Demna Gvasalia and called it “generational design” – shifting the streetwear aesthetic and moving it to a higher level in fashion.
In Singapore, Off-White T-shirts (standard ones that are printed with the Off-White logo) start at $390. According to Abloh, these are clothes made in the same factories in Italy that produces for big luxury brands like Valentino. But does that justify the luxury-level pricing?
“It is luxury. Speak to us about ordering fabrics or making something specialised or sustaining a business. A lot of people don’t understand that. I’m looking at H&M right now (he points to H&M Orchard Building that’s visible from where we are). No disrespect but it’s just different for them to make clothes as compared to us,” he interjected.
Abloh holds no ill feeling towards fast fashion though. “I think that’s just the pace of fashion,” he expressed. “If you can’t deal with it, you shouldn’t be designing clothes. Being in fashion is a position that comes with respect and people that have done it before had to deal with different challenges to be at the top. So I feel like it’s our duty to also step up and make great things under the current constraints and climate.”
When I asked if it then makes sense to slow down the pace of fashion, Abloh had no clear answer. While he is not entirely sold on the “see now, buy now” movement, he believes that the fashion system should be modernised because he feels that the next ten years in fashion should not look the same as the last ten years. But right now, he’s doing both.
But if there’s one thing that he’s certain about, it’s that there’ll be more store openings to grace. “I’m opening New York, LA and Toronto in the next three months,” he revealed, making Singapore the final Asian stop; at least for now.
Off-White Singapore "WINDOWS" is at 01-01, 268 Orchard Road