In February, Virgil Abloh gave a free, open-to-the-public talk at Columbia University. There, he talked about a ton of upcoming projects, discussed why architects could solve the problems of the future and most notably for some, played Migos. But in the Q&A portion of the talk, Abloh was faced with a question he had been getting quite a bit: For someone so predicated on democratization, on accessibility and on the youth, why was the price point of OFF-WHITE so high, rendering the product itself inaccessible to many?
Last Wednesday, when Vogue announced their one-day Forces of Fashion conference aimed at addressing “the world today; the collective desire for experience and connection,” that question easily came back to mind. At $3,000 a ticket, the 11-hour conference and the tools are inaccessible to most. In fact, the event literally costs more than students are charged for a semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Sure, Vogue is a business, and a big one at that. The idea of putting a premium price on the experience of being in the room and possibly interacting with the likes of industry greats Dries Van Noten, Stella McCartney and Demna Gvasalia is not something we can argue with. But why not take Abloh’s lead and make the tools more accessible?
Thanks to the Internet, fashion's barriers to entry are lower than ever. What was once an almost impenetrable industry has seen its fields leveled thanks to digital culture. An Instagram post cosigned by the right account can set off a sensation for a piece, gaining a person instant credibility. Simply being associated with Kanye West can get you press coverage. Frank Ocean wearing your shirt can cause it to sell out in hours.
Vogue sits in the space between social media popularity and mainstream success. As the leading media authority on fashion, it's a platform for legitimization in the industry. Helping make successes of designers that are considered “outsiders” is one of Anna Wintour's legacies.
Think of the publication’s support of brands like Hood By Air. Or programs like the Fashion Fund and the incubator, which have brought in brands like Public School and Gypsy Sport and provided them with tools, connections, and financing needed to succeed in the business. Complemented by favorable coverage in Vogue, it gives emerging designers a leg-up and empowers them as independent labels.
At that Columbia talk, as a follow up to Virgil’s slightly long-winded answer about why the prices of his pieces were so high, someone else asked if he would commit to posting the CAD designs for some of the OFF-WHITE furniture online. He agreed to. He even went further saying that at some point, he would like to do a collaboration wherein he provides the pattern for garments to the public.
When Business of Fashion put on their VOICES conference, though their ticket prices may have been high to attend, they livestreamed the sessions, making the video available to all later via YouTube. But whether free or at a reduced rate, why won’t Vogue speak to where fashion is now? It should lower the barriers and share some of the information gleaned from the event with the people who really need it.
In this vein, while Vogue monetizes the experience and possibility of connecting with these industry stalwarts, they can lend a digital helping hand to people who would need that knowledge more than attendees fortunate enough to afford the price of admission.
So maybe, like Virgil, the publication puts the blueprints, the processes learned in the conference online. Or, maybe, also like Virgil has been known to do at his fashion shows, the allow for some amount of "open to the public" setting, be it an overflow room at a reduced price that doesn't include the experience, but again includes the information. Surely, with all the minds at that vaulted publication can figure out something.
Now check out Virgil Abloh in Viktor Vauthier's new documentary, Paris Is For Lovers.