It was in September 2016 that I had the opportunity to meet and interview Virgil Abloh. The tall, Ghanaian-American creative director was in Singapore on the occasion of the opening of Off-White's first store here. It was the brand's seventh then—a far cry from the more than 60 stockists that it's currently available globally—and Abloh made every attempt in ensuring that the press knew about every inch of the space.
Abloh felt imposing, but not only in the physical sense. Even long before his appointment as men's artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Abloh was already a creative force and his reputation preceded him. He was the creative director of Donda, a creative content company founded by Kanye West that was involved in conceptualising everything from music videos to the album art for a number of hip-hop artists. One of the first Donda projects was West's collaborative album with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne, which earned Abloh a 2012 Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package.
And then, of course, it was during the same time that he first officially dabbled in creating fashion of his own. With Pyrex Vision—somewhat of a precursor to Off-White—Abloh sought to challenge traditional notions of fashion and luxury. Champion T-shirts and deadstock Ralph Lauren flannels were screen-printed with 'Pyrex' and '23' (an homage to Michael Jordan) and then retailed at a premium. In many ways, it was the beginning of the kind of melding between streetwear and luxury fashion that has now become a ubiquitous part of the industry.
Add DJ, artist and trained architect (just to name a few) to the list, and it wasn't difficult to feel overwhelmed in Abloh's presence. But what's been apparent from the start of Abloh's career and perhaps part of his stratospheric success was in the way that he was open to everyone. Abloh was accessible and it was not unusual for him to open up invitations to his fashion shows on social media to his legion of fans. "I didn't get the memo that fashion was still closed doors. My brand is based on the youth energy and if they came all the way only to be turned down because they're not 'invited', that makes me a hypocrite," Abloh told me.
It's that same kind of spirit and energy that Abloh brought to Louis Vuitton. His appointment was monumental for a couple of reasons—he was the first artistic director of African descent for the luxury fashion house, and one of the few to hold such a position at a major French house. True to form, Abloh didn't take the appointment lightly, opting to introduce his own childhood memories and culture as a Black man into the collections. Diversity and representation increasingly became important communicative tools at Louis Vuitton but seen through Abloh's inclusive lens.
Streetwear cemented its place within luxury as Abloh incorporated his background in the scene as part of Louis Vuitton's continued legacy as a brand. Collaborations with key players in streetwear the likes of Nigo, Nike and even the National Basketball Association helped modernise Louis Vuitton. And a foray into creating its first skate shoe in partnership with professional skateboarder Lucien Clarke proved how Abloh was striving to realise fashion as not being 'closed doors'.
If there was any hesitation at all just how valued Abloh was as a creative, it was just last year that LVMH gave him creative control over its entire portfolio of brands—an unprecedented move and role. In a statement released, Abloh took it as an opportunity to "expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion in the industries we serve". While we are unfortunately not able to witness the full extent of that partnership, there's no doubt that it would have continuously broken boundaries like Abloh was known to do.
There has been no confirmation as yet of who will take the reins—both at Louis Vuitton as well as Off-White—but what's certain is that there are some mighty big shoes to fill. Abloh's influence proves that there's no turning back for fashion; that a white creative's opinion and direction is not the only one that matters. Continuous change is afoot, and thanks to Abloh, there's bound to be more of that coming.