If you know anything about Virgil Abloh, you know that he’s more than just a fashion designer. From his work at OFF-WHITE and Louis Vuitton to his collaboration with IKEA and near-constant rotation of DJ slots and art exhibitions, Abloh is the true definition of a multi-hyphenate.
His work not only transcends the barriers of art, fashion, and design, it breaks them down — and his latest project is no exception. To celebrate the Fall/Winter 2018/19 issue of Kaleidoscope, the magazine took over Milan’s Spazio Maiocchi on November 30 for a group exhibition including the figures featured in the issue, such as Collier Schorr, Eric N. Mack, and Abloh as guest of honor.
Abloh produced two They Live-style commissioned pieces for the event: a billboard questioning the nature of advertising and a series of banners literally urging viewers to “QUESTION EVERYTHING.” He also designed a special collectors edition of the magazine, which came with a white flag identical to one of his banners at the exhibition and a neon yellow OFF-WHITE x Kaleidoscope tee bearing the same “QUESTION EVERYTHING” phrase.
At the one-day exhibition, where he also gave a panel talk about the future of streetwear and art, we caught up with Abloh to learn more about the exhibition, his way of working, and how he merges the worlds of fashion and art so seamlessly.
Do you see your art career as separate to your fashion one?
No. I don’t classify anything. I don’t give myself, internally, a title, or classify the work. I just exist in different places. I found a genre that roots itself in creativity, and once you label it that, then everything needs titles along the way.
Tell us about this exhibition. What’s the meaning behind the billboard in particular?
The inspiration on that body of work is a segment of a larger analysis about advertising and the immense power that it has to change people’s perspectives. You know, simply seeing an advertisement will influence someone to buy, but it also speaks to a much larger context than that — what they believe in.
Of course, I work a lot with logos and brands that mean something to people, but when I do that, I’m also thinking about what those things mean to people, and that’s what’s embedded behind an advertisement. It’s the same “QUESTION EVERYTHING” behind it as a complete piece, and then the front piece sort of falling off and communicating exactly what I’m trying to say.
Your work is always evolving and pushing the boundaries of fashion and art. What is it about the intersection of these two things that interests you most?
What’s interesting to me is the crowds, you know? I obviously don’t believe in the division between different practices, but people do. If I decide not to believe in that, then all of a sudden the crowd and the mixing happens, which is what you have here today. You know, people who follow art, you have people who follow fashion, you have people who follow sneakers. Suddenly you have them in the same room sharing ideas, drinking, sitting next to each other. What they’re informed of is contemporary culture.
Looking back, it seems like Pyrex Vision’s “Youth Always Wins” lookbook was the first major example of you merging your fashion and art practices. What made you create that?
Back then, that’s what I thought fashion was. I only had limited means. I didn’t have a budget with an atelier and people who make things. I thought that any high fashion brand had meaning behind it. For me, it transcended that, so once I realized that fashion necessarily doesn’t have to have meaning, then I transitioned that work out of fashion and into art, to film itself, to me.
What excites you about the current state of fashion and what doesn’t?
I find myself never really looking above. I find the current state of fashion interesting. Where the ideas come from is the environment, how fast it’s moving, how it went from high fashion to street, where it will go next — it’s indicative by how it’s behaving now.
It’s like the weather. If you want to go to the beach on a weekend, that decision that you make of what to do on the weekend is dictated by the environment.
You’re obviously very prolific. Do you have a certain way of approaching a creative project or does it change?
It changes each time. It’s more about just a dialogue. Of course, I make different projects, so I can think within different bounds, which helps me.
Finally, what can you tell us about your upcoming “Figures of Speech” exhibition at MCA Chicago?
It’s basically the last 15 years of my work. And there’s also a new work in it that sort of expresses the through line that is at the heart of all the things that I make and my creative ambition. It’s interdisciplinary, just as much as the things that I believe in.
In related news, here’s a timeline of how Abloh went from DJing to designing at the world’s biggest luxury house.
- Interview: Miriam Fahim