- Luxury designer Virgil Abloh is in hot water after posting a screenshot showing he had donated $US50 toward a bail fund for protesters arrested amid the George Floyd protests.
- In a story posted to Instagram, the designer wrote “The Miami community ~ I’m crazy inspired. For kids in the streets that need a bail funds [sic] for George Floyd protests, … If it heals your pain, you can have it.”
- It came shortly after he slammed looters for targeting the store of his friend, the designer Sean Wotherspoon.
- Virgil Abloh is one of modern fashion’s most popular designers, known for being Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director, for his own brand separate from Louis Vuitton,Off-White, and his efforts revolutionising luxury streetwear.
- In late February, Abloh was in a Twitter altercation with New York Times Fashion Director Vanessa Friedman, who wrote an article comparing him to the late Karl Lagerfeld.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Virgil Abloh gave $US50 toward a bail fund for protesters who were arrested amid the George Floyd protests. “The Miami community ~ I’m crazy inspired,” he wrote in an Instagram story, according to the New York Post. “For kids in the streets that need a bail funds [sic] for George Floyd protests … If it heals your pain, you can have it.”
This donation – relatively small if it is in fact Abloh’s only donation – sparked backlash, with many comments on Twitter mentioning the fact that $US50 isn’t even enough to buy a pair of socks from Abloh’s Off-White brand. Being one of the most influential black men in fashion, the expectation was apparently that he would express more support for the black community.
Shortly before he posted about his donation, Abloh had been very upset – that one of his friend’s stores had been looted. The designer Sean Wotherspoon, the friend in question, posted an Instagram video of a looted store, prompting Abloh to comment, “you see the passion blood sweat and tears Sean puts in for our culture. This disgusts me.”
Abloh himself posted that the looting was another example of why, as he had previously declared, “‘streetwear’ is dead.”
Abloh is regarded as one of the pioneers of high-end street fashion, or what he has called the “post-streetwear movement,” with roots in the classic streetwear that originated in hip-hop and skating culture. When the lines between luxury and streetwear were torn down, Abloh’s influence was everywhere, from Balenciaga selling puffer jackets to Dior collaborating with Nike on limited edition Air Jordans to Louis Vuitton partnering with Supreme to Gucci working with legendary Harlem designer Dapper Dan.
As Business Insider previously reported, Louis Vuitton named Abloh its artistic director for menswear in 2018. This made him one of the few black people to ever lead a top fashion house, and the first black American to lead a French one.
Aside from Louis Vuitton, Abloh’s own line, Off-White, has established a reputable name for itself, and it has launched collaborations with partners such as Nike, IKEA, and even McDonald’s. Perhaps his most famous collaboration is his long-running association with Kanye West.
Keep reading to learn more about one of the most popular – and controversial – figures in the fashion industry.
Virgil Abloh is one of the most popular designers in the modern age. Known for his line, Off-White, he is also the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear.
Virgil Abloh gained prominence in the last decade with the rise of luxury streetwear, with some noting him as being the trend’s pioneer.
He is the founder of Off-White, one of the top luxury streetwear brands in the world. Aside from its own collections, the brand and Abloh are known for collaborations including with furniture store IKEA, water company Evian, luggage brand Rimowa, Jimmy Choo, Sunglass Hut, and even McDonald’s.
Currently, Abloh boasts 5.4 million followers on Instagram and is good friends with his often-creative partner Kanye West. His designs have been seen on everyone from Rihanna, Beyonce, and model Hailey Baldwin.
Abloh has recently come under fire for only donating $US50 dollars to help bail out protesters that have been arrested during the George Floyd movement.
Abloh wrote on Instagram, “The Miami community ~ I’m crazy inspired. For kids in the streets that need a bail funds [sic] for George Floyd protests, … If it heals your pain, you can have it.”
He then posted a screenshot of the $US50 he donated to a bail fund. He made the donation after receiving backlash for attacking looters who broke into the store of one of his friends, designer Sean Wotherspoon. In a comment on Instagram regarding the looting, he said:
“You see the passion blood sweat and tears Sean puts in for our culture. This disgusts me. to the kids that ransacked his store and RSVP DTLA, and all our stores in our scene just know, that product staring at you in your home/apartment right now is tainted and a reminder of a person I hope you aren’t. We’re apart of a culture together. Is this what you want?? When you walk past him in the future please have the dignity to not look him in the eye, hang your head in shame.”
However, Abloh’s small donation sparked more backlash, as many people brought up the fact that $US50 isn’t even enough to buy a pair of socks from his brand Off White.
It was also pointed out that the people were arrested for protesting police brutality against black men, such as Abloh. And he was then accused of not doing all he can to help out the black community whose culture propelled him to fame.
Virgil Abloh, founder of Off White & artistic creator of LOUIS VUITTON really had the nerve to share his $50 donation. The audacity. That’s not even half the amount of one his damn keychains. My Off White bags will be going up for sale this week.
— Ourfa Zinali (@ourfazinali) June 1, 2020
people should donate whatever they want, but man … virgil abloh really just donated 11% of one off-white belt pic.twitter.com/UCmHLxJh0A
— derek guy (@dieworkwear) June 1, 2020
It was also noted that other celebrities, such as Chrissy Teigen, have donated as much as $US200,000 to help protesters.
In February, New York Times Fashion Director Vanessa Friedman wrote an article asking if Abloh could be considered the “the Karl Lagerfeld for Millennials.”
High-fashion Twitter quickly broke out into group discussions, and the conversation escalated once Virgil responded to Friedman,saying he would like to give a “lecture” on the article because “riffing online is far too low hanging fruit for such an easy and massive ‘case & point.”
Freidman responded by simply saying, “Come do it at the Times Centre.“
Abloh then sent Friedman an image from Joseph Beuys’ 1974 art piece “I Like America and America Likes Me,” in which the artist spent 8 hours with a coyote as a commentary on American society in the 1970s. Beuys said the coyote was America’s spirit animal and that the piece commented on a nation divided along multiple lines, including the Vietnam War and relations between the majority and minority populations.
Friedman’s response: “Am I the coyote in this picture? Are you Beuys? Are these relevant questions?” Abloh did not directly respond to those questions of Friedman’s.
Where Friedman might have a point: Both designers defined and redefined the fashion of their eras.
As Friedman noted in her article,”[Lagerfeld] comes from the couture tradition; [Abloh] built his career on street wear. One saw himself as the caretaker of artistic heritage (under Mr. Lagerfeld, Chanel acquired the specialty ateliers of embroiderers, hat makers and cashmere spinners in order to protect them); one has a keen awareness of himself as a harbinger of cultural change and breaker of boundaries.”
Even Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, told Freidman that Abloh is “is digital, like Karl. Cross-generational, like Karl. Hard-working, like Karl. Intelligent, like Karl.”
Who is Virgil Abloh?
Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois, on September 30, 1980. His parents were immigrants from Ghana, and his mother was a seamstress, while his father was the manager of a paint company. According to a previous article by Friedman, it was Abloh’s mother who taught him how to sew.
He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a BS in civil engineering in 2002. He then went on to receive a master’s in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006.
He told The Cut in 2017 that he didn’t really know he could be a creative full-time. “I felt that a random black kid from the suburbs of Chicago shouldn’t be doing that,” he said.
In his senior year, he took his first art history class, in which he learned about the Renaissance and Italian painter Caravaggio. “It flipped my head backward,” he continued. “I’d spent so much time thinking practical things.”
While finishing his master’s degree at IIT, Abloh said, he saw a building that was under construction by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas. This helped spark his interest in fashion.
It was also during this time that he began to design his own clothes, and work on a blog known as The Brilliance.
In 2009, Abloh began a 6-month internship at Fendi in Rome alongside Kanye West.
Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke once told The New York Times that he was “impressed” with Abloh and West and how they “brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way.”
He then went on to say that Abloh brought in a “new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi.” Burke added that he would be following Abloh’s career.
The New York Times
It was also around this time when Abloh and West began to be seen with the fashion crowds in Paris.
Abloh told W magazine in 2017 that, at the time, they were just “a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there” and that they “saw this as our chance to participate and make current culture. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were bringing more excitement than the industry was.”
In 2009, Abloh married his high school sweetheart, Shannon Sundberg.
They currently live in Chicago with their two children.
In 2010, West appointed Abloh as creative director of his creative agency, Donda.
The following year, Abloh earned a Grammy nomination for his art direction of Kanye and Jay-Z’s album, “Watch the Throne.”
In 2012, Abloh opened his first brand, Pyrex Vision.
As reported by Yotka at Vogue, Abloh had simply taken deadstock Ralph Lauren shirts, screen printed his company’s name on it along with the number 23, and sold them for $US550 each.
In 2013, Abloh closed Pyrex and opened Off-White. The company is based in Milan, and focuses primarily on streetwear. Abloh defined the brand as “the grey area between black and white as the colour Off-White.”
Off-White is known for its quotation marks around words, as pictured above. In an interview with W magazine, Abloh said he “loved” the idea that Off-White “can be questioned” and said he knew that one day, someone would “critique that Off-White is un-inspirational.”
The brand is sold at Selfridges and Bergdorf Goodman, and has been sold at Barneys and Colette. He also has boutiques in Tokyo, Beijing, New York City, and Hong Kong.
In 2014, Abloh launched a women’s wear line for Off-White, and began to show its collections during Paris Fashion Week.
“The end goal is to modernise fashion and steer a [fashion] house because I believe in the modernisation of these storied brands,” he said in a 2017 interview with The Cut. He went on to say at a lecture at Columbia that “[Off-White is] not a brand … it’s a faux-luxury product.”
In 2015, Off-White was named a finalist for the prestigious LVMH Prize, although it lost to fellow designers Marques’Almeida and Jacquemus, respectively.
“Fashion is kinda a joke,” he said in a 2017 interview with The Cut. “I don’t get too bogged down in the clothes. For me, it’s one big art project, just a canvas to show that fashion should have a brand that has someone behind it who cares about different contexts. Social things.”
The year 2017 was monumental for Abloh: he announced a collaborative exhibition with artist Takashi Murakami at the Gagosian, opened his first New York store, collaborated with Warby Parker and Jimmy Choo, and released a shoe with Nike.
“Young architects can change the world by not building buildings,” he said at a lecture at Columbia in 2017. “You don’t have to be a designer to be a designer,” is his contradictory credo.
In 2017, Abloh won the British Fashion Award for Urban Luxe Brand.
New York Times
In 2018, Virgil was appointed artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. He was also listed as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
“It is an honour for me to accept this position,” he said in a statement announcing his appointment. “I find the heritage and creative integrity of the house are key inspirations and will look to reference them both while drawing parallels to modern times.”
Abloh also designed the outfit Serena Williams wore to the 2018 U.S. Open. This outfit, along with the look he designed for Beyoncé as a choice to wear on the cover of Vogue, was chosen to be on exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Last year, Abloh was chosen to be on the board of the CFDA. He was also nominated for a CFDA Award for Menswear Designer of the Year, for his work with Off-White.
That same year, he gave an interview with Dazed magazine where he said that streetwear was “probably going to die soon.”
As Business Insider previously reported, Abloh gave an interview with Dazed where he predicted that streetwear was going to die “soon.”
“In my mind, how many more T-shirts can we own,” he told Dazed. “How many more hoodies, how many sneakers?”
He then went on to say: “We’re gonna hit this like, really awesome state of expressing your knowledge and personal style with vintage,” he said. “There are so many clothes that are cool that are in vintage shops and it’s just about wearing them.”
Still, his influence on the industry cannot be denied. The idea that Abloh may become a legend or modern icon is not far-fetched.
As Business Insider previously reported, many luxury houses followed in the streetwear foundation that Virgil helped build. Balenciaga was selling puffer jackets and chunky sneakers, while hoodies and oversized logos were everywhere.
The “post-streetwear movement” saw Dior collaborating with Nike to make limited-edition Air Jordans, Louis Vuitton launching a collaboration with Supreme, and Gucci working with legendary Harlem designer Dapper Dan.
The lines between streetwear and luxury were torn down; suddenly, they were one and the same.
Aside from designing, Abloh is also a DJ, a creative and artistic director, and a social media influencer. He also has a collection of famous friends, and many people who aspire to dress, look, and be like him.
In February, The Times’ Vanessa Friedman asked if Virgil was the Karl of his generation. The question prompted a discussion, and even a response from Virgil himself.
Friedman made a pretty compelling case as to why Abloh could at least, in some ways, be regarded as the “millennial” Karl Lagerfeld. Both, she wrote, made their marks “in part by embracing irony.”
“Like Mr. Lagerfeld he has made a community that can seem like a cult of personality around himself,” she wrote. “Like Mr. Lagerfeld, he speaks in rolling sentences and is a pleasure to listen to, especially in a world where the most celebrated names often seem to be tying themselves up in knots at the prospect of answering a question.”
“Mr. Lagerfeld was criticised for doing too much, a lot of it not well enough, as is Mr. Abloh. So far, Mr. Abloh has proved himself best as a designer when building atop a foundation established by someone else,” she continued. “His Vuitton is more interesting than his Off-White, which often seems like a pallid copy of other people’s ideas, just as Mr. Lagerfeld’s Chanel was more effective than his namesake label.”
New York Times
Many online onlookers were interested in the discussion between Abloh and Friedman.
“This is one of the most subtle & apt analyses from @VVFriedman on what is wrong in fashion today: how modern designers care less about construction & quality, instead focusing on the superficial – like logos or splash to make it Instagrammable,” said Twitter user Senza Tempo.
“This is actually a good article,” said fashion journalist Pam Boy. “I might not agree with it but Ms Friedman made me cogitate.”
Meanwhile, others felt that Abloh and Lagerfeld cannot necessarily be compared.
“Y’all need to stop trying to push this agenda because he isn’t. Even with him being mass produced and overly accessible it does not compare to the craftsmanship. It’s rather insulting,” said one.
“There’s no comparison! Karl’s incredible legacy at Chanel and Fendi, his ability to constantly reinvent while staying true to the DNA of the brands he headed is unmatched by anyone living or dead!” commented another.
It doesn’t seem as if Abloh agreed with Friedman’s assessment. Instead, he said he would like to give a lecture about her article one day.
We don’t know exactly what Abloh’s lecture on Friedman’s piece would discuss, but it may seek to dissect the notion that he is the heir to a legacy he never claimed to want, that he can lay claim to a title he has never sought to have.
As controversial as he might be in terms of his fashion and design decisions, perhaps Abloh wants a claim to his own name, his own title, his own throne, in a fashion empire that he built.
Abloh didn’t respond to Friedman’s last question, leaving her main point floating, unanswered, in the air: “Mr. Abloh may not be the Lagerfeld heir we want. But he may be the Lagerfeld heir we have made.”
All greats are similar in the fact that they are great. Perhaps Virgil Abloh is just the Virgil Abloh of his time.
New York Times
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