Words: Jacob Davey

Off-White’s clobber was less-than-average when it first burst onto the scene in 2013. The aesthetic was bait, abrasive and try-hard, following the lineage of the HBA / Been Trill garishness that was (for whatever reason) popular at the start of this decade. I was of the opinion that its founder, Virgil Abloh, had only been given his shine due to his association with Kanye West as his creative director. I couldn’t see any reason why all this heavily-branded shit was seen as “high fashion” and way, way overpriced. Why the hell were Fabolous, Future, A$AP Rocky and co. all making Off-White a thing?

Virgil has only become more and more involved in hip-hop. His Off-White Jordan’s attract headlines every time his ‘gifts’ end up on the feet of Frank Ocean or Chance The Rapper. He’s the creative director for Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv Is Rage 2 album artwork and his new “XO Tour Life” video. But how had he amassed so much damn clout rapport in the scene? The music link was the initial spark of me getting into Virgil’s work. He’s been a budding DJ (under his Flat White guise) for a while, which drew him to becoming close with the likes of Benji B; Abloh sought to study him the same way he studies Raf Simons or Rick Owens.

The thought of Virgil Abloh screw-facing the first time he heard “Seasons” (just like everybody else) had now piqued my interest.

Benji B, who also broadcasts weekly on BBC Radio 1, put Virgil on to a wider range of music and subsequently expanded his taste, most interestingly introducing him to UK funky talisman Lil Silva, who he ended up signing to Off-White Records for a release last year. The thought of Virgil Abloh screw-facing the first time he heard “Seasons” (just like everybody else) had now piqued my interest. I started listening to what he had to say about his brand, and it kind of resonated with me. He doesn’t hide the fact he takes the best advice or ideas from the countless innovators he surrounds himself with — from song-selection through to sartorial choices — and that’s absolutely fine.

It makes sense, then, that Benji B held a curation workshop at London’s ‘Off Campus’ earlier this month with Nike and Virgil, who invited people to share the same learning experiences he’s applied so successfully to his personal brand over the years. Alongside Benji B, Skinny Macho and Jme were also in attendance; both integral parts in two of Britain’s biggest musical institutions in the form of Boiler Room and Boy Better Know, respectively.

As well as keeping his ears open to the UK’s music scene, two of the world’s best emerging designers in London’s Martine Rose and Grace Wales Bonner also rolled through to host seminars at ‘Off Campus’. Whilst it’s nothing new that people, in similar circles to Virgil, look to England for artistic guidance (hey, Drizzy), Abloh wants to usher in a fresh batch of creative talents and see them win, just as Kanye wanted him to. He knows that these designers have the kind of acumen to be truly informative for the new wave of aspiring British creatives.

Abloh wants to usher in a fresh batch of creative talents and see them win, just as Kanye wanted him to.

Virgil has now been given a crazy amount of creative freedom by Nike with the ‘Tens’ series, which takes centre stage in the workshop. “By combining these shoes with design that amplifies their ‘handmade’ quality, we’re intensifying the human element and expanding the emotional connection of these 10 icons,” he said of the series. Whilst that might be a slight reach, it’s a cool premise at its core. It’s a natural collab (unlike Vans’ recent shoe with Karl Lagerfeld, which is off-brand and looks tacky). Virgil’s Nikes are full of visible mistakes and amendments — but these ‘misplacements’ actually work.

Virgil Abloh doesn’t see himself as a designer, per se, nor does he hide the fact that he takes ideas from the curators, artists or designers he looks up to. Everything nowadays is a reinvention or augmentation of something that has already been done — a fact he holds proudly central to Off-White’s core ethos. His own projects still represent a grey area for him, and he’s sharing his creative process so that everyone can learn with him.

By directly engaging with consumers and bringing as many people in on his “learning environment” as possible, Virgil is now trying to help teach people how to do it — just like he has. So whilst I’m not going to be wearing a £150, yellow-and-black hazard belt any time soon, I have slowly grown to respect Off-White’s approach. You could even call me a believer.

Posted on September 18, 2017