Virgil Abloh Reveals the "Cheat Code of Streetwear," Confesses Undying Love for Celine
"That is the goal of life, Celine is everything."
Fashion's worst-kept secret is that streetwear is the new couture.
The genre that was once looked down upon by fashion's gate keeping elite as skate rags for street urchins is now respected with as much reverence as those fashion houses whose names require instructional YouTube videos to learn to pronounce (or at least, a course or two in a romance language). And we have creatives like Virgil Abloh, designer of Off-White, to thank for that.
For many seasons, I had believed that streetwear — Supreme, Stussy, Kith and the ilk — was an acquired taste. Some people like prints, some like solids. Some like vaguely '90s-inspired minimalist utilitarian aesthetics (me), others like streetwear (not me).
However, after hearing Abloh speak at Nike's Off Campus installation on Wall Street on Wednesday, where he opened up about redesigning ten iconic Nike sneaker styles, I think I finally get it. In the same way taking my first art history course in college revealed that no, not just anyone can throw a bunch of splatters on a canvas and call themselves the next Jackson Pollock, Abloh's words made me realize that not everyone can throw a logo on a t-shirt and call themselves the next Demna Gvasalia — another contemporary champion of the mundane as art.
Especially when he name dropped famed 20th century sculptor Marcel Duchamp, a man who once presented a urinal signed with a pseudonym in an art gallery, calling it "Fountain," everything seemed to click.
Here, the most intriguing quotes from the creative mastermind himself on everything from work ethic ("the first rule is never sleep"), creativity ("there's endless inspiration in the mundane"), the responsibility of artists of our generation ("it's up to us to be prolific") and, of course,Celine ("Celine is everything").
On his creative beginnings:
I was always obsessed with brands, and I was interested in these tangible products that I would obsess about. I was that kid that would sleep with a Jordan 5 at the end of my bed just so I could wake up and see that. I was into anything ‘90s that defined that era.
On his education, which includes engineering and architecture degrees:
If I was into this band’s tee, or I was into the Jordan, I wondered, ‘Where do these come from?’ I realized they come from a technical background. I just studied those things to hopefully mash it up into a version of what I do now, which is taking my niche culture and influences and trying to add to their history.
On old and new generations working together:
I believe that the younger generation possesses ideas that the old generation can learn from, as long as we button those ideas up and they’re practical and check off all the boxes, that dialogue to me is what’s interesting in any genre. I see it as a renaissance instead of an Armageddon.
On taking on ten sacred Nike sneakers:
This project is career suicide. I can’t stress how ironic my design career could have started and ended with this project. Sneakers mean so much to so many different people. Designers have such discerning tastes, especially now. Everybody that can use a like button or comment is a critic.
On the blasphemous act of taking an X-Acto knife to a Jordan at Nike's HQ:
I asked a naïve question, like ‘I get it, it’s an Air Jordan, but where’s the air bag?’ So I grabbed an X-Acto knife and just punctured the sole. [Nike] was like, ‘Yeah, there’s an airbag in there,’ but I was like, ‘Well I can’t see it.’
On the Off-White ethos and Celine:
[Self reference] is the whole ethos of Off-White. Every time I’m annoying you guys with quotes all over everything, it’s that I’m searching for a new tool to communicate in our post-American Apparel super ironic, post-Been Trill world — but I'm trying to achieve the most refined level of that, something that’s a little bit closer to Celine. That’s the goal of life, Celine is everything.
On being told 'no':
There’s rules to follow and there’s rules to break, and you have to creatively break the rules. I love the first ‘no.’ It gives me an idea about how to get the idea through.
I work basically 24/7... The first rule is never sleep. When someone is sleeping, someone is working.
On creating a 300-piece collection in 3 weeks:
That’s another cheat code — find your constant source of inspiration and then attach onto it. For me it’s conversations all over the world. For me it’s about being attached to the culture. I can’t help but be inspired and gain some new perspective. Then I’ll take that inspiration and do like a 300-piece women’s collection in like 3 weeks. I’m never short of ideas and perspective.
On the mundane:
There’s endless inspiration in the mundane. That’s the cheat code of streetwear. Or [Marcel] Duchamp. You can take this and claim that it is a sculpture, it is a work of art.
On our world:
It’s up to us to be prolific and to leave remnants of our current time to describe our generational input. That’s my sort of inspiration and motivation. We’re all sort of one despite different cultures and nationalities, which is very poignant in terms of today’s climate. There’s an international generation growing up idolizing the same clothes, listening to the same music, and that hasn’t always been the case. These products are sort of our hope to be timeless and add something to that pillar of design.
This time in 2017 has tremendous opportunity. Everyone should be attacking it.