Yesterday, Virgil Abloh was announced as the artistic director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear. We are pleased, but not surprised. The Chicago polymath’s career has been leaning towards a distinguished fashion house for some time. Since launching OFF-WHITE six years ago, Abloh has been disrupting the definition of “luxury” (air quotes intentional), crafting a streetwear/high fashion hybrid that mixes the street culture of “drops” with high-end production and even higher price points.
Abloh’s new position signals a relief from the tedious rigamarole of “established” designers flocking from house to house, but, to anyone following his career closely, it’s clear that Abloh has been on this road since day one.
Speaking to The New York Times, Abloh said “in a way, all of my output has been to make a compelling case for me to take on a role such as [Louis Vuitton]”, and we’re inclined to agree.
Virgil is known for working around the clock, travelling 320 days out of the year. It’s hard to list everything, but here we’ve tracked the highlights from his meteoric rise to one of the top fashion jobs in the world.
1980: Virgil Abloh is born
Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois on September 30th, 1980 to Ghanian immigrants. He attended a private Catholic high school.
Speaking to Teen Vogue, Abloh says it was skateboarding, and the styles that went with it, that sparked his initial interest in fashion, “all the skateboarding brands that I was into had graphic T-shirts. In the ’90s, there were different styles that went along with the different influences in skateboarding, whether that be hip-hop or rock and roll and grunge. And that’s what I was into, so I was following all that.’
Here we can see the early breadth of Abloh’s taste (hip-hop, rock and grunge?) that would come to inform his design process at OFF-WHITE, which has always pulled from various, disparate influences.
1998: Virgil Abloh starts DJing
Prior to fashion, one of Abloh’s first creative pursuits was DJing. Since then, he’s played festivals, fashion parties and rap gigs, as well as playing opening sets for Travis Scott during the New York leg of his Birds Eye tour.
Speaking to The Guardian, Abloh explained the significance of DJing in his hectic life, “DJing is my only peace of mind. When the phone is off, I play my favourite songs really loud for myself and I’m not talking to anyone, I’m not managing anything; it’s just like a time when I can listen to music…I’ll be DJing after I’m done designing or doing anything else.”
2002: Virgil Abloh Meets Kanye West
In 2002, Virgil Abloh met Kanye West, an encounter that would ultimately shape both their lives and careers irreversibly. Kanye clearly saw potential — in a piece from The New York Times, he described Virgil as “one of the smartest, fastest, most innovative people I’ve created with.”
Abloh was duly appointed as Kanye’s creative consultant at just 22 years old. This position would eventually lead him to DONDA, Kanye’s secretive “creative think tank” that formed in 2012. The agency has no social media presence, despite being West’s incubator for everything from music videos to stage design. Abloh is pretty tight-lipped about his experience with DONDA, however we’ve rounded up some of the collective’s most notable work here.
Many critics are quick to point out Abloh’s lack of formal fashion training (the same as Raf Simons FYI), but sixteen years engineering the creative outputs of one of the world’s most zeitgeist musicians is surely a huge advantage when it comes to running a successful fashion brand in 2018.
2003: Virgil Abloh graduates from University
Abloh studied Civil Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, before receiving his Masters at Illinois Institute of Technology. In an interview with GQ, Abloh explains how studying architecture allows his mind to design things from both a micro and a macro perspective, “I wanted to build skyscrapers because I figured if you could build the tallest building, you could design a spoon, you know?”. It’s a very Virgil thing to say, but it makes perfect sense in the context of his work.
2005: Virgil Abloh has a blog
In 2005, Virgil co-ran an unconventional blog called THE BRILLIANCE alongside Chicago-based designers Benjamin Edgar and Chuck Anderson. After a few breaks, the site is now live again as a kind of antithesis to conventional blogs, with “little regard for the way a website or blog is “supposed” to work”, which sounds very synced up with Abloh’s status-quo challenging MO.
Paving a way for his latest job, an old post from 2005 outlines Louis Vuitton (along with ALIFE and visvim) as Abloh’s favorite brands. More recent posts have covered everything from appreciating the color spectrum to favorite cookbooks, and you can submit your own ideas, thoughts and products via the link on the website.
2009: Virgil Abloh opens RSVP Gallery
In 2009, Abloh and another member of Kanye’s inner circle, Don C, opened up conceptual retail space RSVP Gallery in Chicago. The store currently carries a blend of streetwear and high-fashion such as 424, Raf Simons, DRKSHDW by Rick Owens, Martine Rose and of course OFF-WHITE. The retailer’s eclectic, modern curation is mirrored in Virgil’s own aesthetic, of course.
2009: Virgil Abloh interns at Fendi with Kanye
In 2009, West and Abloh interned at Fendi’s HQ in Rome. Along with getting people coffee and doing the photocopying, the Italian luxury label was a place for both of them to gain some entry-level experience in fashion design. Kanye enjoyed it so much that he even shaved the Fendi logo into his head.
In the announcement piece from The New York Times, Michael Burke (who was at Fendi at the time, but is now chief executive of Louis Vuitton) commented, “I paid them $500 a month! I was really impressed with how they brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi. I have been following his career ever since.”
2009: Virgil Abloh starts attending Fashion Shows
Following his appointment at Louis Vuitton, it’s been noted that Virgil Abloh is one the first black designers (after Olivier Rousteing for Balmain and Ozwald Boateng for Givenchy menswear) to be at the head of a French fashion house. Both Virgil and Kanye were starting to take a public interest in the fashion industry, along with Don C, Taz Arnold, Chris Julian, Farnsworth Bentley and Virgil. Speaking to W magazine, Abloh reflects on an initial resistance to Kanye and himself, presumably as young black men, trying to find space in a notoriously exclusive industry.
“We got into about 60 percent of the shows,” he recalls of their arrival on the Paris scene. “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.”
Nonetheless, a picture of Kanye and co. still ended up as a gag on South Park.
2011: Virgil Abloh is nominated for a Grammy
DONDA produced the artwork for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s album Watch The Throne, which featured religious iconography from Riccardo Tisci, who was then the creative director of Givenchy. The work earned Virgil and his colleagues a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. DONDA’s repurposing of others’ work into new spaces remains a foundation of Abloh’s ideology to this day.
2012: Virgil Abloh launches Pyrex Vision
In 2012, Abloh made his first foray into fashion with Pyrex Vision, a line of luxury-priced streetwear which, with its large collegiate lettering, looked very similar to what would later become OFF-WHITE. Pyrex Vision stirred controversy when it was revealed that the brand’s $550 flannel shirts were actually old Ralph Lauren stock — meaning Abloh was simply screen-printing on old shirts and selling them at a 700% mark-up.
Speaking to The New York Times, Abloh describes his intentions with Pyrex Vision. “I wanted to insinuate an emotion around clothing, and that became a metaphor to represent what I thought was happening among young kids who were reinventing fashion — taking clothes and wearing them, maybe, in an ironic way or wearing them in a way that was surprising, transcending what the designer might have intended.”
Strangely there is now an official-fake version of the brand operating in Italy under the name Pyrex Original.
2012: Virgil Abloh launches Been Trill with Matthew Williams and Heron Preston
In 2012, Abloh teamed up with his DONDA colleagues Matthew Williams (who since founded ALYX), Heron Preston (who runs his own label), Justin Saunders (aka @jjjjound) and Florencia Galarza (now an ambassador for adidas Football) to launch Been Trill. Originally a DJ crew, the collective soon started breaking the internet when they started making high-priced streetwear notable for its Tumblr-style graphics and $100 shoelaces.
Showcasing Abloh’s love of collaboration, Been Trill dropped various capsules with KTZ, Stussy and Hood By Air. The brand created comment wars and controversy wherever it went, however in 2013, it was announced that the crew was selling its label to Pac-Sun, which likely allowed its creators to bankroll their future endeavors. A year later A$AP Rocky buried the brand when he rapped “I ain’t really fuckin’ with that Been Trill” in his track “Multiply.”
2012: Virgil Abloh Launches OFF-WHITE with New Guards Group
Officially titled OFF-WHITE c/o Virgil Abloh, Abloh’s meta, deconstructionist, streetwear-meets-couture brand has taken the world by storm since it debuted. The brand was launched in 2012 (a busy year for Virgil, by anyone’s account), with the help of Italian fashion moguls the New Guards Group, the group that’s also behind also behind Palm Angels, Heron Preston and Marcelo Burlon. OFF-WHITE began showing on the Paris Fashion week circuit, expanding into brick-and-mortar stores in Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, and has since attracted over 3 million followers on Instagram.
The use of air quotes, zip ties, capital letters and barricade tape are the cornerstone of the brand’s visual identity. The influence of Virgil’s design language — rooted in the amalgamation of streetwear and high fashion — can be seen across the board today, as luxury houses have pivoted to streetwear aesthetics.
2015: Virgil Abloh nominated for LVMH prize for OFF-WHITE
In 2015, OFF-WHITE was nominated as a finalist for the LVMH prize, an event that foreshadowed Virgil’s eventual appointment at Louis Vuitton by a good three years.
The prize’s high-powered nomination board included J.W. Anderson, Nicolas Ghesquière, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, Phoebe Philo, Raf Simons and Riccardo Tisci. Basically, an exhaustive list of some of the most important people in fashion, and not bad company for Abloh to be in a few years after his brand first launched.
2016: Virgil shows his first menswear show at Paris Fashion Week
Following a few seasons of low-key presentations, Virgil made his men’s runway debut in January 2016, for the FW16 season. The collection was semi-formal, semi-street with Abloh’s typical self-referential details — such as buttons with the word “BUTTONS” etched underneath. Quote marks and Helvetica have become one of Virgil’s trademark moves, and some internet artists have already been mocking up trunks with the word “LOUIS VUITTON” in anticipation of Abloh’s first LV collection.
2016: Virgil is recognized as one of “The People Shaping The Global Fashion Industry”
In 2016, Abloh was inducted into the BoF500, industry bible Business of Fashion‘s definitive index of “the people shaping the $2.4 trillion fashion industry.”
Being recognized by the BoF put Abloh alongside the likes of Alessandro Michele (creative director at Gucci) and Christopher Bailey (former creative director at Burbery) — not a bad thing to have on your CV when applying for a job at Louis Vuitton. You can check out Virgil’s profile here.
2017: Virgil drops OFF-WHITE collab with IKEA
2017 was a strange year for fashion. Following Balenciaga’s take on the IKEA fracta bag, OFF-WHITE announced on its website that it would be officially collaborating with the Swedish furniture manufacturer, with a press release claiming “together, IKEA and OFF-WHITE look for ways to help create a home for millennials who are just starting out their lives”. Linking with an affordable, mass-produced furniture store with a rapid collaboration was classic Abloh, and serves as a reminder that he probably has as many unconventional collabs planned for his time a Louis Vuitton too.
2017: Virgil Abloh directs music video for Lil Uzi Vert
The official music video for Lil Uzi Vert’s emo-rap banger, “XO TOUR Llif3” came out six months after the track’s initial release. Shot by Virgil Abloh in the 10th arrondisement of Paris, the video was controversial for its use of Arabic subtitles that bore no relevance to the lyrics from the song. It currently sits at 190 million views.
2017: Virgil teases possible OFF-WHITE x LV collab
Whilst attending Vogue‘s Forces in Fashion event in New York, Abloh was spotted carrying a bag from Louis Vuitton’s Jeff Koons collaboration, with an added strap that put the luxury house’s name in Abloh’s signature air quotes. A hint perhaps?
2017: Virgil drops “The Ten” collab with Nike
One of the biggest and most hyped drops of the year, Virgil teamed up with Nike for “The Ten”, a re-imagining of ten classic Nike sneakers. The silhouettes were redesigned in Abloh’s aesthetics with zip ties, transparent materials and of course egregious air quotes. The shoes were caused mayhem on the resell market and were hailed by many as the best sneaker of the year.
The collab’s blueprint-like designs echo back to Abloh’s training as an architect, and exemplified his obsession with re-contextualizing familiar objects. Perhaps Louis Vuitton’s iconic monogram print is next in line.
2018: Virgil Abloh gives university lecture at Harvard School of Design
Virgil Abloh is also an accomplished public speaker. As well as speaking at Colombia university in 2017, Abloh gave a lecture at the Harvard School of Design earlier this year, which you can watch above.
2018: Virgil Abloh’s Fw18 show starts a riot at Paris Fashion Week
OFF-WHITE’s FW18 women’s show in Paris, titled “West Village,” resulted in a riot outside as hundreds of non-invitees tried to get in following a pop-up earlier that day. Let’s hope security is tight for his first show for Louis Vuitton in June, as the hype will surely be reaching breaking point.
2018: Virgil is appointed artistic director at Louis Vuitton Menswear
Finally, Virgil Abloh has ascended to the one of fashion’s highest positions, as artistic director of menswear at the world’s biggest luxury house. Abloh has often referred to OFF-WHITE as a “training ground” or “mood-board” for his ideas (albeit a very profitable one), and we’ll see what his vision for the house looks like when he shows his first collection in a few months’ time.
To see what Reddit was saying, check the reactions here.
- Main & Featured Image: Johnny Nunez / WireImage / Getty Images