Man at His Best

Wisdom: Virgil Abloh

The creative director and fashion designer of Off-White voices his standpoint on fashion and streetwear.

BY Tan Guan Lin | Mar 16, 2017 | Design

I think Singapore chose me. My strategy for opening stores is [to put them in] certain places in the world that are responding to the brand.

What I’ve learned is that I’m an independent thinker—independent [as in] non-trained in fashion, making things.

Fashion—the old version of it—was so guarded that it didn’t let anyone in.

When it was a top-down, numbers-driven fashion, there was a lack of personality and salt to the things that were being made and sold. Streetwear is the reverse; it is the consumers who are dictating the product and not the other way around.

Is it democratic fashion? Yeah, the consumer is always making [the decisions].

Since fashion in quotes is—in large part—always making a trend and selling to the people, you’re seeing the effect of what happens when the people make a trend, make it themselves, and own the business. And then [it filters] upstream and you end up with something that can be close to luxury.

Thankfully, the term luxury has changed…Ten years ago, luxury was a very finite, definite thing. Now I can claim these ripped jeans are just as luxurious as my suitcase that is Hermès. These ones are made with just the same amount of care and choice, arguably the same as the leather that goes into making an Hermès bag.

The perfect pair of jeans means more to me than the perfect bag. That’s 2016 mentality.

These clothes are a response from your [audience’s] yes.

They kind of designed it. That’s what this new world is. It’s street. It’s worn on the streets. It’s not fashion. It’s not making some art that no one can wear.

I’m looking at what people are wearing and offering a different point of view to what they already have, so there is less of a gap.

Architecture and fashion are the same exact things. But I studied architecture under Rem Koolhaas, which is not architecture by traditional standards.

What I’m making is streetwear that is very layered, that is built on art principles like Duchamp, built on principles of globalisation and Rem Koolhaas—the highest level of thinkers. But I’m distilling it down to something that someone can wear.

I keep talking about modernity. 2016 is an inversion of things that have happened before.

I identify with Warhol because he was able to do the same thing, articulate the times, and give it back to somebody [to] put on his or her wall.

My medium is clothing, and a brand that allows me to do architecture, graphic design and art design all in one. The goal is that, years after, people can unravel it and figure it out.

Apple Store—the name of the store is bigger than the store itself.

I’m the skateboard kid from the ’90s, the movie kid, the graffiti kid. All that is the starting point. I was, without knowing it, by just being a teenager in the ’90s, being in the culture.

Raf Simons made the genre of clothing as it is now. He and Jun Takashi, to me, made streetwear 10 years earlier, before culture even knew it. I’m making things of the culture now… this is my starting point.

In 10 years, I will be able to speed up my process and present something that is ahead of its time.

Am I buying a pair of jeans or a concept?

I won’t make clothes that are avant-garde because I don’t understand them. I want to make things that age well, like streetwear.

Streetwear, you know how feverish the market is. Kids will line up for anything. What are those things that they are lining up for? Will they be timeless? I’m designing so hopefully they will be.

There is a very specific ratio of designers who makes things that age well. There’s something that has to happen for it to age well, to be an archival collectible.

We are a crew of people, a generation that people counted out. They didn’t respect us. They thought we were just fans of fashion, that we were going to put on whatever they were selling us.

I don’t understand any other way to do it. I’m not trying to be a designer who is trying to emulate someone else.

Do I read the comments on Instagram? Yeah, I do.

Kanye [West], he is the forefather of all this. He stood in front of the train and said that the fashion world has to respect us. That, to me, is in the history books next to Rosa Parks.

I’m only afraid of running out of ideas.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, March 2017.