I’m not a designer. This is how Virgil Abloh responded to his (initial) detractors. An (almost) provocative definition of himself, intended for those who pointed out that his educational path was not in line with his assignments and successes in the fashion system. But it was also a slogan that told the world that his creativity and approach could not be encapsulated in a definition “for traditionalists”. He therefore preferred the acronym TBD, “To Be Defined”, which was perfect for tracing his career from DJ to Louis Vuitton’s menswear director. A parabola that was interrupted yesterday, at the age of 41.
I’m not a designer
Abloh’s disruptive idea, in short, was this: to mix US streetwear with European fashion. And vice versa. “Vintage Levi’s are as important as a Hermès bag, and today they come together in the same outfit”, he said. With (unsettling) truth in his pocket, Abloh took his first steps into the fashion system in 2009, when he and Kanye West did a six-month internship at Fendi for $500 a month. “I will forever cherish our Roman days,” Silvia Venturini Fendi wrote on her Instagram profile yesterday.
Off-White and “the 3% approach”
In 2012, Abloh founded Pyrex Vision, which closed the following year. The next project hit the mark. It is Off-White, which bases its success on the strategic union between the stylistic sensibility of American streetwear and the quality of Italian manufacturing. And that’s not all. For Abloh, Off-White has become the ideal training ground for non-stop experimentation with what he called “the 3% approach”. In other words, it is enough to modify 3% of the product to make it seem both familiar and completely new.
For the designer who, writes Business of Fashion, is “almost as if he had created his own language, his own vocabulary” the consecration came in March 2018. Louis Vuitton appointed him as creative director of menswear. “You can do it too,” writes the designer on Instagram soon after. “Virgil was not only a brilliant designer, a visionary: he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” recalled Bernard Arnault on LVMH’s social profiles yesterday.
In 2019, he discovered he was suffering from a cardiac angiosarcoma. He took a break and faced the disease in silence. He started again. The following year, he stated “streetwear is dead”. Then he clarifies: “I meant that new things like fashion (coming) from guys like Nigo and me will be born from the regeneration of streetwear”. Last July, in an agreement, LVMH gave Abloh carte blanche, giving him the possibility to launch brands and sign partnerships with all the brands in the LVMH galaxy. Yesterday, however, that carte blanche became black. Forever.
Images from Instagram