Pret-a-Reporter

Virgil Abloh on How He Used a Cellphone to Design His Levi's Collaboration

Bibi Cornejo Borthwick

The Off White designer's newest project is high-fashion streetwear meets accessible workwear.

"Bro! Listen to the kids," Kanye West famously shouted while accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV VMAs. Perhaps he had a point, because if Jonathan Cheung, head of design at Levi's, didn't listen to an intern, the Levi's x Off-White collaboration with rising designer Virgil Abloh might never have happened.

Cheung told The Hollywood Reporter that a student intern named Hector suggested he reach out to Abloh. "He shows up at my office with a deck of papers with Virgil's biography and the friends he hangs out with," recalled Cheung.

As it turns out, Abloh had already been in communication with the Levi's marketing department because he was interested in doing something with the San Francisco-based workwear brand, too. So it was fate.

"The best you can dream is to work with the best in any category — if it was Coca Cola or Marlboro — and Levi's to me is where denim originates," Abloh, who's also a creative director for Kanye West, told THR Wednesday night at the Levi's Haus in Los Angeles, where a party was being held in celebration of the collaboration. "I'm so happy that they were receptive to me, coming in with my take on their icon."

Abloh's interpretation resulted in a 11-piece unisex capsule collection that features a classic '90s wash with a high-fashion streetwear twist — a trucker jacket dyed either white or yellow on one side; flare jeans with a key ring zipper stitched in white; and a shearling jacket featuring a detachable hood and fur details. The range was co-created with Levi's Made & Crafted.

Some of the styles were worn by the evening's partygoers including Blackish star Yara Shahidi, singer Travis Mills, rapper Joey Bada$$ and Erin Wasson. Jaden Smith, Kendall Jenner, rapper G-Eazy and actor Ethan Peck were also on the stylish scene.

"He has a very modern way of designing. You don't get a lot of fashion sketches," said Cheung of Abloh's process. "He comes with a bunch of ideas and sometimes they're just words. Sometimes it's on a piece of paper or a text or [via] Instagram messaging. Then he'll come in and he'll improvise."

Added Cheung: "Another thing: When we're doing a fitting, traditionally your mouth is full of pins, but [Virgil's] looking at it through his iPhone, observing the whole thing. And I guess it's because he's of a generation that is so social-media savvy. He can see how that's going to show up and it's really interesting."

For Abloh's part, he likes to see his clothes through a screen because "I want to see how people see themselves in the clothes. We live on our phones. It's a filter in a way. That's how something really looks on you. It's the same concept as a mirror."

The Levi's x Off-White collection, priced from $691 to $1,679, is now available at off---white.com.

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