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Off-White’s Virgil Abloh

Off-White’s Virgil Abloh

Born on September 30, 1980, in the far northern part of the State, Rockford, Illinois. Virgil Abloh was raised by his hard working parents, his mother as a seamstress, while his father managed a paint company. Growing up, he tried exploring many interests that soon bud out into his love for streetwear culture. 

Growing up in Chicago during Michael Jordan’s prime years, Abloh witnessed the dawning of sneaker culture. He even tried sending a sneaker design way back then to Nike but was told that they don’t accept submissions. Interestingly, he was also drawn to graffiti together with his childhood friend Kris Eans got into reading books, specifically “Spraycan Art” by Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff, and “Bomb the Suburbs” by William Upski Wimsatt during middle school and tried experimenting with the art form themselves. Several of Virgil’s tags are Ceas1 and Verg. 

His parents always supported him in exploring his passion but have always emphasized the importance of getting an education. Thus, he attended Boylan Catholic High School, graduating in 1998. He then, graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, he was honest enough to tell that he wasn’t thrilled to pursue his career in the field of engineering hence, entering into the Design and Architecture Program of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), then receiving his Master of Architecture in 2006. 

Architecture had a significant impact on him being a designer today. Most of his industrial aesthetic principles were deeply inspired by several deconstructive architects, including Rem Koolhaas, who happens to be a long time partner of Prada.

It was also during this time that Abloh entered into the streetwear culture, While in Chicago, he made side trips to New York City for the sole purpose of shopping at local stores such as “alife”, wherein he started making friends within the community as well. He was then introduced to the “SPLAY”, an exclusive website for iconic brands initiated by Samuel Spritzer. On top of that, being an architecture student, Abloh started learning the use of Adobe Suite in his works, while one of his instructors encouraged him to use his skills in a different form of design. Thus, leading into his early t-shirt designs and started writing blogs on fashion and design for The Brilliance blog site. Before long, he then decided to launch his streetwear design. Conceiving the first of the many, Fort Home features an Edwardian script of the brand name and a big “X” printed at the back of the shirt. He hosted several pop up shops for this brand, but it never thrives much than he expected it to. Though at some point, it caught the attention of one significant individual. As he got his designs printed out in a print shop in Chicago called “Custom Kings”, the employees were surprised at how organized he was, offering him a job in the place. Working with Custom Kings, Abloh had the chance to connect with Dawn C as he walked in looking for someone to help him design shirts. It turned out a successful start for Abloh since Dawn C liked the designs he created for him–which became a significant turning point in Abloh’s career. 

As Dawn C saw the potential of Virgil Abloh, he set up a meeting with his cousin, John Monopoly, who was Kanye West’s Manager at that time. In 2006, Abloh skipped his graduation ceremony to meet with Monopoly and shortly after, he was introduced to Kanye West. Together, they collaborated on album covers, set designs, outfits, and several projects in mind. It was the start of definitely a great friendship for Virgil Abloh and Kanye West. Through this fruitful friendship, Abloh was able to expand his network. 

In 2007, Kanye introduced Abloh to Kim Jones. He admires how Kim Jones manages the thin line between streetwear and luxury fashion—having the opportunity to learn everything about the industry. This was the start of another significant friendship in his journey. During this time, Kanye, Abloh, and Kim Jones were involved in the label named “Pastelle”.

One of the most remarkable collaborations that Kanye opened for Abloh was one with Takashi Murakami working on Kanye West’s Glow in the Dark Tour for his 2008 album Graduation. With several projects together, they aimed to enter the high-fashion scene. In 2009, Abloh and West became interns at Fendi in Rome. Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke was impressed with both of their works. According to him, Abloh and West brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. He also added that he’s been following Abloh’s career ever since. Without the Fendi internship, Virgil wouldn’t get into Burke’s radar. Also, in this same year, Abloh and West, along with a team of influential friends, made it to the Paris Fashion Week, catching the crowds attention in the process. In one of the interviews conducted by W magazine, Abloh tells that “We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there. We saw this as our chance to participate and make current culture. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were bringing more excitement than the industry was.” Both of them didn’t hold back and stayed. One famous photo circulating online is an image of them standing outside the Comme des Garçons show by Tommy Ton for Style.com. In the photograph was Don C, Taz Arnold, Chris Julian, Kanye West, Fonzworth Bentley, and Virgil Abloh. 

Following Paris Fashion Week, Virgil assumed the role of creative director for Kanye’s upcoming 2010 album “My beautiful dark, twisted fantasy”; As art director, he handpicked George Condo to create series of paintings for the album’s cover artwork, where most of the final versions were censored to be released in stores. In 2010, Virgil became the creative director of Kanye’s creative Agency, Donda where he focused on merchandising and stage design. In the process, he art directed the album Watch the Throne by Jay-Z and West, which earned him a nomination in the 54th Grammy Awards. In this particular project, the album cover was designed by Riccardo Tisci, who was then the creative director of Givenchy, a role Abloh was rumored to be up for after Tisci’s departure in 2017.

During a tour in England, Virgil met Matthew Williams, Heron Preston, and Justin Saunders at Lanesborough Hotel. With their desire for a better music vibe in the pubs of London they initiated launching a DJ Collective under the name “Been Thrill” which was inspired by the internet culture and rap music. Leveling up their game, they created the branding for this label, resulting to printing shirts with bold graphics and dripping themed logo. They started circulating pieces among their friends until several iconic artists regularly wore them including, Kanye, Rhianna, and ASAP Rocky, until it became available to several local shops in the town. It initially started as a DJ Collective that later on became a streetwear brand–somehow everyone treated it this way. It was in this era that transitioned Virgil Abloh into a public figure. A very remarkable stage in his life. 

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In 2012, Abloh launched Pyrex Vision, in New York. He bought deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts for $40 each and screen printed them with the word Pyrex and the number 23, paying homage to his childhood hero, Michael Jordan; and then sold the item for $550 each. Shifting to 2013, Abloh shutters Pyrex and finds Off-White while on a transitional period, It is a multi-platform creative endeavor based in Milan having a primary medium which is fashion. At Off-White, Virgil Abloh merged ideas of streetwear, luxury, art, music, and travel, describing the brand simply as, “the gray area between black and white as the color Off-White.” From the get-go, hovering quotation marks become Abloh’s signature.

In 2014, Abloh launched his debut collection on a menswear collection for Off White and womenswear for Fall/Winter 2014 collection. He then began exhibiting his men’s and women’s collections for the following years in

Abloh’s operation gains more recognition as LVMH panelists nominated him to be a finalist for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers 2015. This was a pivotal moment for his career and Off-white and being nominated is an honor in the fashion industry, even though he loses the grand prize and special prize to Marques’Almeida and Jacquemus, respectively.

2016, Abloh opened his first concept store in Aoyama, Tokyo, featuring a watercooler with Off-White branded cups available for free. This same year, he debuted his Grey Area furniture collection in Milan, featuring iron grid chairs, benches, and tables with leather cushions and Carrara marble tops. With the thriving success of the Off-White brand, collaborations and projects went on and on for Virgil. Several ventures kept coming for the brand, including his collaborative exhibit with Takashi Murakami; the British Fashion Award for Urban Luxe Brand; collaborations with Warby Parker, Jacob the Jeweler, and Jimmy Choo; and many more. One of the most far-reaching recreations he did was a partnership with Nike, designing 10 of its iconic silhouettes in a work-in-progress style, each adorned with a safety tag around the laces. Officially released by Nike, was the infamous partnership of Off-White and Nike in 2017. 

In 2018, he was then named Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of its menswear collections. As he humbly accepts the role, he mentioned that It was such an honor to accept the position. He finds the heritage and creative integrity of the house as the key inspirations and will look to reference them both while drawing parallels to modern times. Honoring his works, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago initiated an exhibit for him. It was also in this same year that his IKEA collaboration was released. It was a fascinating journey for Virgil Abloh, and he never ceases to surprise the crowd with his creativity.

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