The man re-inventing fashion
What does a DJ, fashion designer, and civil engineer with a Master of Architecture all have in common? Seemingly nothing, but these are all facets that make up Virgil Abloh, the designer who is leading the current fashion revolution and reinventing luxury menswear as we know it.
With just 10 years of fashion experience under his belt, Virgil has become one of the most important and sought-after designers in the world. With his own fashion label that has become a streetwear staple around the world, and an impressive client list that includes Beyoncé, Drake and Rihanna, Virgil is here to stay. So how is it that the American designer has become such a massive force in the fashion industry? It all started with an internship at one of Italy’s biggest fashion houses.
Virgil, an engineering graduate, first entered the world of fashion in 2009 as an intern at Fendi, along with American rapper Kanye West. Working in the fashion house’s Rome headquarters, the two began a collaborative relationship, which led to Kanye hiring Virgil as the creative director of his creative agency DONDA, a year later. Virgil’s relationship with the rapper spawned another project, which saw him serve as the artistic director for the 2011 Jay-Z/Kanye West album Watch the Throne.
The year 2012 proved to be a transformative one for the designer, who founded his first company, Pyrex Vision, with a small collection of couture streetwear. He referred to the business as an artistic experiment, purchasing deadstock clothing from American label Ralph Lauren for $40 a piece, screen-printing designs onto them, and then selling each item for upwards of $500.
However, it was Virgil’s second venture that put him on the fashion map as a designer to watch. He founded Off-White, a high-end streetwear brand, which he described as “the grey area between black and white as the colour off-white” in Milan, Italy. With his screen-printed sweatshirts, long-line hoodies and post-modern slogans, the brand became one of the most popular and recognisable luxury streetwear labels in the market. The label rose to new heights thanks to its collaborations with everyone from Nike to Ikea. The collaboration with Nike resulted in a range of sneakers, including Air Jordan 1, Vapormax, Air Force 1, and more under ‘The Ten’ project.
The real game-changer, however, was when Virgil was named the new men’s artistic director of French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton, in March last year. His appointment created a buzz in the fashion industry for many reasons. Some were skeptical because Virgil had no formal fashion training, while others lauded Louis Vuitton for appointing the first person of African descent to lead the brand’s menswear line. The 38-year-old designer was born to Ghanaian immigrant parents, and his move to the luxury fashion house was seen as a win for diversity.
Virgil’s arrival at Louis Vuitton shows the brand is willing to take new risks. He brings his own touch to the iconic brand, fusing highend streetwear and luxury clothing. His unique approach to fashion speaks to what the majority of men, especially young men, want to wear. Most of luxury fashion is aimed towards an older demographic, who favour the classical, traditional or sometimes avant-garde style.
Back in June, Virgil debuted the Spring/Summer 2019 collection – his first under Louis Vuitton – in the garden of Paris’ Palais-Royal. “The biggest goal for a first collection in any scenario is to start so that people can understand the new vocabulary,” he wrote on Instagram before the show, at which all attendees were left with a dictionary on their seats. One of the first and arguably most important terms was ‘acessamorphosis’, which he said described the transformation of an accessory into a garment. This term was applicable to most pieces in the 56-look collection he called Colour Theory, as the white pieces gave way to colour, like light becoming a rainbow through a prism.
From the moment the models hit the runway, it was clear the brand had taken a turn under Virgil’s leadership. The ‘acessamorphosis’ stood out the most, which was seen on the backs of many of the models. In essence, this ‘mid-garment’ is luggage you can wear, falling somewhere between a crossbody bag and a shoulder holster, with examples including a striking cobalt leather harness finished with multiple pockets. According to Virgil, they are a “new class of garment”. Pieces on the catwalk ranged from monochromatic outfits to Wizard of Oz-inspired pieces that screamed Virgil Abloh. However, his collection also included signature pieces from the French label, such as the Petite Malle clutch, which he reimagined to include black trunk corners, a scratch-proof chain strap, and a neon orange link attaching the lateral with the front zip.
It is clear by now that either under Off-White or Louis Vuitton, Virgil is helping redefine our understanding of fashion for men and women alike. The monochrome, the pop of colour, and the endless accessories are proof that fashion is capable of change. Virgil’s impact on the industry was clear during the 2019 Golden Globe Awards, when Best Actor in a Supporting Role nominee Timothée Chalamet walked the red carpet in a head-to-toe Louis Vuitton ensemble that sent social media into a frenzy. Timothée wore an all-black outfit, but it wasn’t his pants, shirt or shoes that got everyone talking – it was the sparkling mid-garment. Thousands of people took to Twitter, trying to dissect and understand what he was wearing. Even daytime TV host Ellen Degeneres questioned him about it saying, “You wore the coolest thing to the Globes, and people didn’t really understand.” To which he replied, “They told me it was a bib.”
In a time where fashion is most keenly focused through the lens of streetwear-obsessed Instagrammers, it is no surprise that this new wave of streetwear-meets-luxury fashion is taking off. And as this trend continues to gain momentum across the globe, keep an eye out for fashion’s coolest man, streetwear genius Virgil Abloh, at the helm of this fashion revolution.
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