VIRGIL ABLOH'S RULES OF STYLE
As Off-White’s exclusive collection for MATCHESFASHION.COM launches, Natalie Hughes meets the label’s creative director who has given rise to a whole new category of streetwear.
This article was originally published on MATCHESFASHION.COM.
Virgil Abloh rarely sleeps. In between heading up cult label Off-White, the 36-year-old creative director is DJing around the world, collaborating with Kanye West, designing furniture, and even dreaming up a hotel concept – more of which later. Despite calling Chicago home, Abloh’s (boxfresh sneaker-clad) feet rarely touch the ground; he moves between LA, Tokyo, Hong Kong and London with such regularity one would be forgiven for thinking he’s designed a time machine, too.
When I ask him how he finds balance, he laughs. He talks of being in a constant ‘creative state’, which seems to be one of boundless energy – something Abloh has in spades, even after the red-eye flight from which he’s recently disembarked on the morning of our interview. He barely remains seated at the London shoot location, jumping up to take a closer look at a mid-century bench, suggesting it as a prop for the photographs.
Abloh is hands on and exacting when it comes to Off-White and the label’s branding. It’s thanks to this unerring vision that the label’s signature stripes have garnered such cult status. Existing somewhere between streetwear and ready-to-wear, Abloh’s monochromatic designs, inspired by everything from Tumblr to Bauhaus, invite you to read between the – literal – lines. Like his friend and fellow designer, Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia, Abloh is recoding streetwear, decontextualising it to compelling effect. In fact, on set, Abloh is wearing a Vetements jersey, his tattoos peeking out from beneath logo-emblazoned sleeves.
This is a man with style. But what are his sartorial rules? The Style Report finds out.
1. FIND YOUR USP
‘It was a real goal to fill in a gap within fashion that my peers, friends and I saw existed but we didn’t really see the designer or the garment or the spirit of being represented. So it sort of started as just a “for us, by us” type thing... It’s a great, fulfilling thing to dream up something that doesn’t [already] exist.’
2. BRANDING IS EVERYTHING
‘One of the hardest things to design, besides a logo, is a monogram, something that’s a repetitive pattern. You know you can try for a really long time but to come up with something that someone hasn’t already done or a version of something that’s so recognisable. So I sort of happened upon the line, which is sort of this universal symbol that’s so generic it can be branded. In a large part, Off-White is not even about the clothes, it’s about the brand.’
3. DON’T OVERTHINK; JUST CREATE
‘Go to a screen printer and make something. The first action is what will lead to something… Make the product, sell it. You know, you learn more through the failures or the intent than actually sitting and thinking and talking about it.’
4. EMBRACE DIGITAL ECLECTICISM
‘It’s the modern way [of] synthesising everything. High-low, something very expensive, something very cheap… adjacent images, whether it’s on your Instagram or your Tumblr.’
5. EMPLOY VISIONARIES
‘In employees, I look for vision, you know. Someone who brings ideas to the table.’
6. FIND YOUR WARDROBE STAPLES
‘I just have staples: black hoodie, black jeans, black tee… You know, new things maybe once in a while, but very standard things. It’s easier to not think about anything.’
7. MIX AND MATCH
‘It’s an Off-White thing; it’s the mood board, the Tumblr thing, you sort of wear different brands ’cause then in between that, it kind of says who you are. You’re borrowing or mixing; this plus this equals me. There’s a person at the end; it’s not a hanger. So that’s really what Off-White is.’
8. BUY CLOTHES LIKE ART
‘I can buy a lot of things because I like them [as] objects. Yeah, I buy clothes like art. I want to own them, I like knowing that I have them.’
‘There’s a study that I was doing on graphic T-shirts, and not manufacturing them as T-shirts. I was looking for another way of articulating that basic streetwear garment, trying to [create] a different process to end up at the same result. So there’s a series of thin-knit graphic T-shirts… they’re sort of woven but I like the way it distorted the graphic. All those pieces, I’m into. Taking something that’s everyday but then making an elevated version of it – that’s sort of the premise of the label.’
10. THINK BIG
‘I have a furniture line [in the works], I’m working on a hotel. It’s actually just limitless, it’s a modern way of thinking which is inspired by living. Maison Margiela, or Phoebe [Philo]’s concept with Céline, or Hedi Slimane’s concept to reinvent Saint Laurent, is proof that the operating system of fashion can be updated in like a lifestyle way and so, that’s my aim, my project.’