How Virgil Abloh shaped the course of visual culture


At just 41 years old, Virgil Abloh had irrevocably changed the course of visual culture, bringing to life the tropes and ideas that define contemporary design as we know it now. Often citing the dada artist Marcel Duchamp as his “advocate,” Virgil was a master of sampling, able to take iconography etched into public consciousness, tweak it slightly and present something entirely new – l ‘Approaching 3%, he nicknamed her in a 2017 lecture at Harvard University.

Granted, his designs had their detractors as well, but any derogatory criticism was more than made up for by the calls for celebration and praise his work garnered. This was especially the case when he took the reins of Louis Vuitton Men’s, becoming the first African-American to land the most senior position in a major European fashion house. For many, the move crystallized the many ways Virgil had changed the game, making long-rejected subcultural references – ranging from New York graffiti to skateboarding and ’90s hip-hop – feel at home in the most high heights of haute couture, art and design. Armed with an affinity for collaboration, he also gave the many people he worked with and supported with access to closed spaces, breaking down and rebuilding structures from within. Here we pay homage to a selection of Virgil Abloh’s most significant works.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne album covers

Kanye’s covers (2007-2013)

Virgil’s relationship with Kanye West is one of the history books. In 2007, West had “hired him to help the rapper achieve his growing ambitions beyond music,” GQ reported. It was during this time that Virgil commissioned artist George Condo to paint several covers for West’s concept album, My beautiful twisted dark fantasy, released in 2010 and critically acclaimed. George Condo, an artist who had worked alongside writer William S. Burroughs and philosopher Gilles Deleuze, was a left choice, but Virgil’s decision to work with him introduced Kanye to a new cultural milieu. Blurring the lines between two siled worlds, fine art and hip-hop, the collaboration testified to Virgil’s propensity for creative cross-pollination, as well as his intuition as a curator.

During his tenure as head of West’s creative agency Donda (named after Kanye’s mother), Virgil would call on Riccardo Tisci – then Givenchy’s creative director – to design Look at the thronethe album cover. Resplendent with gold, the royal design features stars in every corner, invoking the patterns that adorned the luxurious, long streetwear that Riccardo designed and outfitted Kanye throughout the album tour. Although the worlds of hip-hop and high fashion now blend steadily together, Virgil’s move to Donda has been a key catalyst in bringing the two together.

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Image via Pyrex Vision

Pyrex Vision Rugby Flannels (2012)

Copy and paste was Virgil’s modus operandi, with the silkscreened shirt as a signature. Nowhere was this better illustrated than his early efforts in capital F mode. Designed in 2012, Pyrex Vision was launched with a collection that Complex claimed screen-printed Ralph Lauren shirts from a now defunct “Rugby” line, on sale at the time for $ 39.95. The items bore the “PYREX 23” crest and sold at an alleged mark-up of 700%.

Demonstrating his Trojan horse approach to design, PYREX 23, he revealed in a lecture at Columbia University, refers to an old saying in impoverished black communities: the only way out. is playing ball or dealing drugs. Pyrex jugs, a cracker-making utensil, and 23, Michael Jordan’s number, he explained.

Canonized in Highsnobiety‘s The new luxury – a book tracing the cross between streetwear and luxury fashion – Pyrex shirts are identified as an early indication of Virgil’s skill in making products that are coveted and meaningful to millennials – a form of cultural capital that big brands had not yet fully addressed. He never confirmed whether these were in fact Ralph Lauren shirts, however, true to his postmodern practice, the accusatory words that appeared in Complex were then printed onto an Off-White rug by longtime collaborating artist Jim Jones.

Off White x Niike the Ten Trainers

Image via Nike

The Ten: Nike X Off-White (2017)

The heart of Virgil’s method was to be at peace with imperfection. As he explained to Columbia University students, “Pyrex, the brand, low and behold, was not made to be a clothing line. That’s why it stopped. For him, it was a project to test ideas, and therefore, a model for what followed: Off-White.

Consider his inaugural collaboration with Nike X Off-White. Rebuilding ten of the brand’s most beloved sneakers, Virgil literally took the scalpel to shoe, pulling each model apart to produce something familiar but new. The experience sparked Virgil’s belief that sneaker design was an art form – he even told Nike that their shoes “are on par with a sculpture of David or the Mona Lisa. “

Most heartwarming of all is how Virgil understood and got involved in this particular project. After the release of the Ten, he read the comments on Hypebeast, some of which were critical – many Air Jordan purists felt the original should be left alone. While he clearly disagreed, it was important to him that the streetwear community had its own reactions. It was on these conversations, he noted in his Harvard lecture, that streetwear culture and his work flourished.

Installation view of Future History, Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh's exhibition at Gagosian

Image via Gagosian.

Future story with Takashi Murakami (2018)

Shown at the prestigious premier gallery, Gagosian, the collaborative exhibit has toured London, Paris and Los Angeles – with the final stop bringing in hordes of teens hungry for private viewing. In an interview with Cultivated, Virgil recalls his first meeting with artist Takashi Murakami in his studio while assisting Kanye a decade before the project. The irresistibly kitsch enterprise was another step in its division of disciplines, espousing Murakami’s nods to otaku Western art subculture and theory with its pop culture sensibility, with spray art, ostentatious branding and satire taking center stage.

It was a moment of loop. Virgil mentions in The new luxury, that his first encounter with luxury was the Takashi Murakami collaboration of Louis Vuitton, negotiated by Marc Jacobs. The same year that Virgil collaborates with the Japanese artist, he was appointed artistic director of Louis Vuitton Men’s. All year 2018.

Ikea X Off White (2019)

If there was one thing Virgil insisted on throughout his life, it was democratic access. The Markerad collection, designed with the apartment of a millennial in mind, embodied this philosophy, seeking to elevate household items so that they can be both functional, desirable and affordable – though the designs are now accumulating a value of serious resale. The genius was to bring the fervor for collectible rarities that Virgil had witnessed in streetwear communities in Japan, UK and US to a new kind of product. Young people lining up outside a Swedish furniture store is the last thing you’d expect to see in an out of town shopping park like Croydon’s Purley Way, but Virgil got it right. “A compromise between two distinct notions that are similar or dissimilar,” he put it to Harvard graduates. In short, he found a way to make mundane items as exciting as a supreme drop, by labeling the collection with his speech marks and tongue-in-cheek jibes.

As part of the project, Virgil documented the work in progress, showcasing prototypes before finalization, giving young people an overview of the design process. His reasoning? “For me, growing up, I studied architecture, I was in music, and I always felt that there was a gap between the things I loved and consumed and who made them, how they made them, ”he explains in a live interview.

Geländewagen project by Virgil Abloh and Mercedes-Benz

Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Geländewagen project with Mercedes-Benz (2020)

Under the guidance of Virgil and Mercedes-Benz design director Gorden Wagener, came a stripped-down iteration of the iconic all-terrain four-by-four. Unlike the original made in 1979, Virgil’s reimagined model was a racing car, with racing tires, body coatings, and a Formula 1-style interior. Informally known as the G-Wagon, the car was reworked by the couple as an art project – the vehicle was not created to be sold or driven. As one of Mercedes-Benz’s most recognizable cars, the vehicle had full-fledged kudos; when Virgil turned to it, however, removing the handles and leaving a sanded exterior, its significance was only magnified.

In an Instagram post paying tribute to Virgil, rapper Tyler the Creator highlighted the collaboration as his “favorite project” for the artist. “My eyes couldn’t understand what it was. My brain couldn’t imagine it was real. But my body and my mind were thrilled because I didn’t know we could do this stuff, ”he wrote. Behind that note, a subtext that makes the collaboration so remarkable could be read: Virgil has reached heights that black creatives are so often said to be beyond their reach. True moment “Virgil was there”, he had left his mark to uplift others.

Louis Vuitton’s ‘A View’ skate shoes (2020)

As a kid of streetwear, Virgil grew up with a passion for belligerent skate brands such as Alien Workshop and Zoo York, many of which were fond of unauthorized monkey designs. Throughout his career, Virgil has used this technique, going so far as to use the United Nations logo to promote a DJ event. Naturally, the cease and desist letter that followed was featured in her 2019 gallery exhibit, Figures of speech, at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.

However, by the time he arrived at Louis Vuitton, he had reached a position where his work and his word were respected in itself, and he was free to taste and refer to it as he pleased – all the while being supported by a house. LVMH and workshop. The potential this allowed was realized in 2020, when Virgil signed Lucien Clarke as professional skateboarder at Louis Vuitton, the deal made with Clarke’s own professional shoe. Drawing inspiration from the styles he grew up with in the ’90s, the shoe is a testament to the genius and validity of 17-year-old Virgil, whose ideas have continued to fuel him throughout his career. For Clarke, now settled in with an LV monogrammed skateboard and a seat at the table, he’s hurt but ready: “I will carry on in any way I can with the same attitude and outlook on life you had,” a- he writes. on Instagram. And again, it reminds us of Virgil’s greatest gift to all of us: his generosity.

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