En vogue designer Virgil Abloh continues a banner year with his recent collaboration with Saks Fifth Avenue.
Chicago’s star in the fashion world has grown considerably brighter in the last few years, largely in thanks to the dizzying ascent of Virgil Abloh, the longtime creative director to Kanye West and Rockford, IL native whose line, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh, has garnered buzz on and off the runway as a must-wear line by the most stylish.
Last week, Abloh debuted Off-White's Saks Fifth Avenue-exclusive collaboration, Shock Waves, a unisex capsule collection of T-shirts, hoodies, and sweatshorts whose bold graphics and hues cull inspiration from 50s-eras billboards in Florida and evokes Abloh’s fascination with surf and skate culture. Abloh commemorated the release with an in-store appearance at the retailer’s Mag Mile space, where the pavement-pounding, perennially busy creative dished on the collaboration, his Chicago roots, and more with Michigan Avenue.
What inspired Shock Waves? VIRGIL ABLOH: For me, what’s cool about doing these capsule collections is that it gives me a chance to do sprints while I’m working on main collections and working on pre-collections or anything else. I welcome the sort of quick design exercise, and what I can do is make a different mood board of Off-White. The fact that no other place besides the Saks doors has this design or this concept for graphic design and T-shirts—that for me keeps it exciting.
Your style seems very fly by the seat of your pants in terms of how you work. Can you walk me through the process of coming up with the designs and bringing everything together when you’re working in a collaboration like this? VA: I’m a super reactionary type designer. I can’t think of new ideas being in a stagnant state or place; in conversation, or seeing something, or hanging out with friends in a new restaurant in a new city helps me tap into the pulse of what’s happening and it keeps the ideas sort of fresh and current. And that’s where my motivation comes from; when I’m in different spaces or I meet different people, that’s what I draw from to decide, "This is the aesthetic I want to put forward for this collection." Sometimes ideas work for main collections, sometimes they work for little capsules like this. It’s a little bit of a moving target.
What was that kernel of inspiration for this aesthetic? VA: This one was cool. This was more of my teenage sort of sensibility, the brands that I was wearing, it was inspired by that. I came up in Rockford, Illinois, just right outside here, [inspired by] surfing, skate-type vibes. Stussy or Gotcha or Vision Streetwear or Mossimo—all those brands were sort of drawing from skate, surf, beach. In my main collections, that’s not the overriding theme if I’m working with a bigger concept. Here, with the ambiance we created with the video playing—[which displays] this phrase I used in the earlier part of the brand, “industrial by nature"—these two things sort of pulling at each other, that’s what this is about.
Is it a nice switch up being able to do a collection that has T-shirts and hoodies, not necessarily designing a high-end garment? You get to sort of return to that T-shirt culture. VA: Yeah, my head’s always there. I’m always excited to iterate and delve into that. My brain always sits there; it’s a yin and yang to all the other projects I’m doing.
What about the visual installation component? VA: It’s that sort of tension between industrial and natural. We have these beach sort of vibes and then what I pull from Off-White is sort of an urban environment. I’m from Chicago; there’s not that much beach or surf, you know, but it was something that when I grew up I was into. Having these design projects gives me an outlet to express that sort of yin and yang.
Is that tension always there, or at this point as a designer, you feel it’s palpable enough to where you want to realize it in a collection? VA: It’s me. It’s a 17-year-old version of myself. I hold those early teenage experiences close to me even as I grow up, because that’s who I am. That’s where my authenticity comes from.
Abloh's capsule collection with Saks, titled Shock Waves, includes exclusive Off-White T-shirts, hoodies, and sweatshirts.
When you look at where Off-White is right now, and you consider it in the context or the broader spectrum of Pyrex, Been Trill, or earlier initiatives, how do you see it as a natural evolution to where you are with Off-White? VA: This is a culmination of all those. Those were sort of early exercises in just expressing myself. As soon as I realized the potential of those projects, I sort of made this creative studio space, I gave it a name, I let it behave like a fashion brand; but it’s also the sandbox, if you will, for all the ideas I want to develop and see grow over time.
Looking ahead to 2018, what’s the natural next step for you? VA: Just continue the pace. I enjoy the pace and the sort of regularity I have to come up with ideas and think of it creatively. To me, I just keep my head down and focus on what makes me happy creatively.
When you do come to town, what are the spots you have to hit up? VA: I’m really nowhere. I’m just chilling. For me, that’s the joy of being home, is that when I’m traveling, that’s what I’m doing, [working] pretty much nonstop. Each project needs a certain amount of attention. So when I’m home, I’m home.