Virgil Abloh sat down with Slam Jam Socialism to talk about the importance of travel in his creative process and the city of Milan as a base of operations. He says that culture, gained through experiences while traveling is key to understanding and trying to establish an identity and also highlights some highs and lows in his career that have also shaped the brand and himself. Check out some of the excerpts below and read the full interview here.
Travel is an important part of your day-to-day life. Before Milan, where were you?
A lot of places. I started traveling to Montreal, Toronto, New York, Philadelphia, then to New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, Miami, London. I’ve been to all these places in like three weeks. It’s a mix of DJing and business travel. I mix the two all day, everyday.
Do travel and physical experiences have an important role in your creative process?
Yes, it’s essential to being in touch with what’s happening. There’re a few styles of design in any culture, like this style of fashion design is a subculture [holding a sneaker in his hands]. It’s important to be a part of the culture. It’s the events like book signings, art shows, and the design of it. It’s the things that you see right in front of it rather than looking at it through the computer. I come from ’90s skate culture; you have to be a part of the culture that you’re representing. I think it’s the culture that I enjoy and I also participate in it.
Sounds quite different from the absence equals presence approach we’ve seen – in some cases – across the past decades (eg. Martin Margiela). How do you feel about that?
He’s like a God; he can do whatever he wants. He tells us what to do and leads us with his legacy. This is a new genre of design. It’s not to be confused with high fashion. It’s a new hybrid. It’s like couture has got the rhythm of a different era, while the rhythm of this era is like everyone’s wearing Levi’s, printed t-shirts. That’s fashion now, but it wasn’t fashion before. The designers from the era before like Margiela, Alaïa, McQueen, that’s a different era, and I think my goal is to embrace the culture of now but also infuse the designers’ nature of the past. It’s culture, but a cultural mix. I think the god of design is Raf Simons, and we’re all the after-effects of his earthquake.
Why did you choose Milan as the base for your design studio and center of operations?
Italy, in general, has a history of making clothing. One thing you realize when you travel around the world is you don’t see the divisions in the world; you just see what people are great at. We all live on this planet; it’s more like a global view rather than a nationalist view. That line of thinking is how I arrived at the opportunity, but it’s not like I chose Italy, it was because of the existing team. I came here because I liked what they had to offer.
Do you think Milan has something, in particular, to offer in regards to your own personal discovery and that of Off-White?
Yes, to me it’s the local culture. I feel there’s like a specific Milan-based art direction style which is totally different from Berlin’s one, New York, or LA. This is very distinct.
Were there ever moments where you felt it was difficult to create your own identity because of certain celebrity associations?
Yes, but it’s in a way that it’s not even a problem. It’s just the nature of doing creative work. For me Off-White is a project for myself. It’s very much like a very personal art project; it’s not even a clothing brand so much. I made a career, up to this point, by working collaboratively with everyone from my brand to a person.
What are some of the most and less satisfactory moments of your career?
There are no bad ones. Satisfactory ones are achieving goals that I don’t necessarily know I would achieve. It’s a great moment along the road and just validation of a concept.