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The enterprising artist known only as @Shirtnyc, who once spilled the sartorial tea with a bootleg offering that brought together the world’s most iconic sportswear brands, Nike and adidas, for an unlikely and totally fake collaboration, is back at it again.

One year on and Shirt returns with a new “100% fake real” collaboration, and this time, it’s a fashioned union between Raf Simons and OFF-WHITE.

Raf Simons, the Belgian aesthete, needs no introduction, and he’s something of a mythic cult leader for any die-hard fashion obsessive. In fact, A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean recently immortalized their love for Raf with a new track. On the other hand, Virgil Abloh, the polymathic designer behind rising brand OFF-WHITE, has exercised a rebellious and conceptual approach to fashion, the zeitgeist, and a thoughtful expression of youth culture in the contemporary moment.

To the untrained fashion eye, a Raf Simons and OFF-WHITE collaboration isn’t totally improbable. In fact, Virgil has long loved Raf. “I would be an intern – sweep the floor, clean his living room – just to be in that space. He’s such an inspiration, but I wouldn’t collaborate because I don’t think I’m worthy,” Virgil once told British newspaper The Independent.

Raf Simons seems to agree with the “unworthy” sentiment. The Belgian designer gave GQ a rather unfiltered interview earlier this year, and bluntly said he said he isn’t inspired or excited by Virgil Abloh’s work with OFF-WHITE. “He’s a sweet guy. I like him a lot actually. But I’m inspired by people who bring something that I think has not been seen, that is original. It’s not always about being new-new because who is new-new?”

Virgil responded in the most OFF-WHITE-way possible, dubbing his Fall/Winter 2017 collection, “Nothing New”. It’s fair to assume we won’t be seeing an official collaboration anytime soon — if ever — but Shirt has used his bootleg practice to create an alternative reality where the Raf and Virgil love is mutual. The latest collection is simply titled “Raf Simons x OFF-WHITE”, and he blends Raf Simon’s intellectual authority with OFF-WHITE’s distinctive graphic ephemera.

While an official Raf Simons x OFF-WHITE is most certainly not on the way, Shirt’s latest bootleg is one for the fans. Shirt’s process shows how the bootleg can be a space for artistic autonomy in an industry ruled by bureaucracy. Shirt’s Raf Simons x OFF-WHITE collection is where, we as fashion fans, are in control of the images and ideas that are most important to us. It’s further proof that bootleg culture and its humble plain cotton canvas is as relevant a medium for experimentation than any artist’s canvas.

We asked Shirt to tell us more about why he decided to harmonize Raf Simons and OFF-WHITE for his latest “100% fake real” collaboration and what he has planned next.

This is hilarious. Is this “Raf Simons x OFF-WHITE” collaboration in response to Simons’ comments about Virgil?

Yeah, it’s in response I can say. I’ve been feeling around the idea for the last couple months kind of designing slowly. Again, I find it really interesting that without the guys actually collaborating, I can bring them together in this way. It’s this somehow trying to hide my own hand in the process and just let the idea take center stage that really excites me.

Are you a fan of both Raf Simons and Virgil Abloh’s respective work in fashion?

Yeah, for sure. I’m not one of these kids that can tell you what season pieces are from but I really do love this shit. I think Virgil is such a special talent and I’m so happy he’s getting to take this where he is. Sometimes, it feels like we’re studying our way through art and fashion on the same page, just because our references and things we choose to highlight feel connected. Respecting these guys and learning from them and letting their energy and attitude affect me goes way past their clothes I usually can’t afford.

Given that Virgil Abloh long trolled streetwear with his bygone Been Trill and Pyrex Vision days, it’s fair to say he has always had an affinity for the bootleg. What do you think Virgil will think about your new drop?

I don’t like thinking of any of that as trolling. That word shouldn’t be used to describe when someone actually makes stuff and thinks so much about what they’re contributing. Wanting to bother people alone and being provocative as a way to make people think and feel are two different things. It doesn’t do anyone any good to confuse those.

Also, I’m done trying to think of what someone will think about what I do. I’ve gotten to this place I just need to see it done. I need it to exist. I hope anyone that comes across it and stops because it means something to them, can feel positive about those feelings. Like I hope you can frame it in a way for yourself that’s positive, whether you hate it or not.

Tell us about the “design” process? How did you choose which Raf Simons x OFF-WHITE related visual motifs to repurpose?

I think I’m prouder of what I didn’t do than what I did. A lot of times those choices say more than the other way around. I think it’s interesting a straight dual logo tee didn’t make the cut for this first drop. I played with so many design elements, that’s partly what the website does. I wanted to show a little bit of the beginning processes, cutting stuff up, juxtaposing them. But in the end, I have to feel pieces in my bones. They have to exist or I don’t want to add them to the world. I put things together, I look at them out of the corner of my eye, I make samples and see what pieces look like on bodies, in motion.

What’s your favorite piece in the new collection?

I love each piece for different reasons. The Heron tee is super hard to me and when he [Heron Preston] posted it on Instagram a few days ago. I saved it, only to see he deleted it a minute later. So I caught it. I love everything about that shit. The fact it’s this real moment he shared, how connected it is to Virgil, how Heron deleted it for whatever reason, how it doesn’t exist now unless you saw it. I caught that moment and now the tee is forever. There’s this poetry I think I tapped into.

With your Nike x Adidas collection, you ended up receiving a cease and desist letter. Do you think you’ll get thrown another one?

Super possible, though I’m hoping I can just cook.

What else can we expect from you in the future?

I’m a student for life. You can expect me to keep learning and trying things out publicly. Bringing info and design and poetry through my f*cking rap mind and rap skin.

Want more fashion news? Take a Look Inside Heron Preston’s Pop-Up at KM20 in Moscow.

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Words by Kam Dhillon
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