Tracing the steps that lead Abloh to becoming Louis Vuitton's Menswear Artistic Director - Portrait by Fabien Montique
In March 2018, streetwear mogul Virgil Abloh was named Louis’ Vuitton’s creative director of menswear. The fashion icon rose to popularity after his OFF-WHITE label revolutionized the fashion world; making it turn its head to streetwear and the potential it was showing. He made other fashion houses recognize streetwear as part of haute couture. But how did he rise to such a position?
One of Virgil’s favorite hobbies is listening to music in total peace
as a way of relaxing all the creative muscles. And music was exactly
what helped him kickstart his career into fashion. Back in 1998, Virgil
was playing DJ sets for rap gigs, festivals, fashion parties as well as
playing for well known rappers like Travis Scott. In 2002, Virgil met
Kanye West; a definite turning point both in his and Kanye’s career. At
only 22 years old, he was already Kanye West’s creative consultant. He
immediately moved into DONDA, West’s creative bubble that’s completely disconnected from the outer world.
In 2003, Virgil graduated from university in Civil Engineering at the
University of Wisconsin and then received his Masters Degree at
Illinois Institute of Technology. Studying architecture allowed him to
think in macro and micro perspective simultaneously. In 2005, he started blogging
together with Chicago-based designers Chuck Anderson and Benjamin
Edgar. His archival posts show that LV was one of his favorite brands.
In 2009, Virgil steps into the fashion scene with RSVP Gallery
in Chicago. Blending streetwear and haute couture pieces were displayed
in an aesthetically pleasing space. The curation of pieces was a pure
reflection of Abloh’s unique style. Shortly after, he started an
internship at Fendi together with Kanye. Moving to Rome, the duo gained a
detailed look into the world of fashion houses and high fashion. They
were only paid $500 per month. Soon after, Virgil started to attend
fashion shows around the globe with his friend Kanye.
DONDA is the creative agency behind Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch the
Throne album, nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording Package back in
2011. Taking religious iconography from Ricardo Tisci and reworking it
into packaging for a rap album is the most Virgil thing in the world;
repurposing. After his Grammy nomination, he dipped his feet into the
fashion world pond for the first time by creating Pyrex Vision. A hybrid
of streetwear and high-fashion, his pieces sold for designer prices
while looking skateboard-ready.
Soon after, he teamed up with Heron Preston, Justin Saunders, Matthew Williams and Florencia Galaraza to create Been Trill. What started as a DJ crew turned into an apparel maker of absurdly priced items such as $100 shoelaces. Their designs were graphic-heavy and branched out to collabs as much as possible. Sparking controversy and comments everywhere, the brand was sold off to Pac-Sun and died after A$AP Rocky delivered the final blow in his track “Multiply.”
OFF-WHITE ℅ Virgil Abloh was launched in 2012 shortly after. It took the world by storm as it was backed by Italian fashion magnates New Guards Group. He started showing his garments on the Paris Fashion week and then branched out to brick-and-mortar stores in New York, Tokyo and Hong-Kong. Quotes, capital letters, barricade tape and zip ties attracted the eyes of many fashion snobs who found this blend of streetwear and haute couture attractive. In no time, he racked over 3 million followers.
In 2015, he was nominated for LVMH prize.
Not only was this a revolutionary moment as he was being put in the
same pot as the biggest names of fashion, it served as a prediction to
his current position. Placed along J.W. Anderson, Marc Jacobs, Karl
Lagerfeld, Carol Lim, Riccardo Tisci and many big names; he gained the
attention of the world of haute couture who was still grasping on the
impact of streetwear in the luxury fashion world.
2016 was the year when he showed his first debut with a full menswear
collection. The FW16 season was full of his signature details, “air
quotes”, zip ties, capital Helvetica and deconstructed pieces. Business
of Fashion listed him as one of the people shaping the fashion industry,
adding him to the influential list of 500 designers (BoF500).
The following year, he dropped the news about the upcoming
collaboration with a Swedish furniture manufacturer. His vision was to
create a home for millennials.
In 2017, he produced Lil Uzi Vert’s XO TOUR LiiF3 music video and teased a possible LV bag collaboration. A Jeff Koons collaboration bag with a replaced
strap that featured Abloh’s signature details. Later, he dropped his
most hyped project with Nike; The Ten. He was tasked with reimagining 10
sneaker silhouettes, wreaking havoc on the resell market.