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Virgil Abloh didn’t have time to stop by his hotel yesterday. He had no choice but to be ushered away from the airport immediately after his 12-hour flight. His destination was Gangnam’s Shinsegae Department Store, one of South Korea’s finest luxury retailers. The recently renovated mega boutique is now home to OFF-WHITE’s first solo pop-up space in Korea, made in partnership with BOONTHESHOP. Abloh’s been working with BOONTHESHOP on exclusive items since last year, but the opening of this special pop-up was enough reason for him to fly in for the day from halfway around the world.

Abloh held a two-hour shopping and signing event with both celebrities and fans in attendance. Yes, people waited in line to get their T-shirts or pieces of paper signed with Abloh’s glorious inscription in silver sharpie.

Those who missed out on this opportunity can still get their hands on OFF-WHITE’s Spring/Summer 2016 exclusives for BOONTHESHOP, as well as iPhone cases released for the very first time. Highlights of the pop-up are the brand’s Dr. Martens and Braun collaborations that are making their world debut a full seven months ahead of their planned Fall/Winter 2016 release.

We got to speak to Abloh on why he chose Korea to launch these items, as well as what he hopes OFF-WHITE to achieve.

How did your relationship with Shinsegae BOONTHESHOP begin?

They were following the brand from its first season so it was a great partnership that we started. We had mutual friends that worked together.

Was there a specific element about BOONTHESHOP that made you choose it above all the other retailers in Korea?

Not necessarily. [BOONTHESHOP] supports the creativity in young designers early on, and they represent us in a great light and quality level.

It’s interesting that you chose Korea to launch these exclusive collections for the very first time. What influenced that decision?

Just having the right partners to do it. I believe in having ideas, so for me, it’s not a stressful or difficult thing to think of a collection that works for a specific place.

Do you see a difference in customers between Korea and Europe or North America?

I think every market has its own characteristic. That’s what’s great about developing a brand nowadays. You have to make sure that different buying trends, different aesthetics work within the overall vision.

So when you’re designing a collection you have all these different markets in mind?

Yes, I travel a lot so I’ve been to a lot of places and I stay in tune with culture. In the back of my mind that’s my sort of mood board: the globalness.

Are there any designers or artists in fine art or music in Korea that have drawn your attention?

I [have been] friends with CL and GD for just a number of years from going to fashion weeks and having mutual friends.

Just walking the streets or seeing ordinary people in Seoul, what is your impression? What do you think of their fashion style?

I think it’s very global. It’s very on-trend with styles that are happening in Paris, London, New York, LA. It’s cool to see how social media has really thrown styles together as well as celebrating individual ways.

I’m curious about what other brands you see as your competition.

I don’t really think in those terms. I just really focus on developing OFF-WHITE into the concept that I’ve had in my mind since I was a teenager. I believe in colleagues and generational design. There’s a number of designers the same way that it is in every genre of art.

You have a very street-inspired aesthetic but it’s a very high price point. You have a fanbase of young adults who maybe can’t afford your fashion. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Nah. Essentially the one thing that most people don’t understand is the cost of making things. I think there’s a difference between mass-produced things and designer product. A shirt can cost $3 USD but it’s also not necessarily unique or it’s not specific. OFF-WHITE is an art project that happens to make clothes and objects and things.

Who do you see as your target buyer?

There’s no target. The ironic thing is, the customer is not meant to buy anything. OFF-WHITE is a brand with its own vocabulary. It’s more [about] the influence than to [be] purchased. If you purchase it that’s a bonus, but it’s more to represent a set of ideas.

When you were younger, what kind of brands or designers did you aspire to?

All the greats: Margiela, Helmut Lang – those sorts of designers embodied more than just clothing. They embodied the artistic side of fashion.

Is there anything that you want to tell Highsnobiety readers?

It’s a great time for young fashion design. There’re now designers representing new sets of ideas in a high-fashion space so I think in a way it’s a renaissance of young fashion design especially in established stores like this.

Words by Elaine YJ Lee
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