The definition of an architect is a person who designs buildings and in many cases also supervises their construction, but more importantly, the architect is responsible for creating a vision of what the project should look like once it is completed. Seeing a building in construction in its beginning stages it looks like it’s a mess and very chaotic, and I tend to think to myself, “I wonder what that building will look like once it’s finished.” Usually the completed version looks much better than what I envisioned and that’s the beauty of being an architect. No one can really see your vision, they can only try to guess what it is until the project is fully completed. At the time, only very few could see the vision that Virgil and Dolph were trying to build and unfortunately it wasn’t until their passing that people started to realize how impactful they were for not just the Black community but the culture.
Virgil Abloh received his Bachelors of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then went on to obtain his Master of Architecture degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. The study of architecture is one of the more difficult degrees to obtain in the design space, so Virgil having a background in architecture was very telling about his capabilities as a designer. Architecture and Fashion Design are very similar because they both require an idea to be constructed from a sketch of an idea and they both involve numbers. Coming from an architectural background, Virgil understood the construction aspect of fashion design. One of the things that made Virgil so impactful is that he was able to apply those design concepts to streetwear which then landed him at Louis Vuitton as the creative director. I often forget he was the creative director for DONDA which is a creative content company founded by Kanye West. Virgil having a Kanye West cosign only sped up his process of being known as the legendary designer we know him as today but even without a Kanye West cosign Virgil Abloh still would be where he is at today because he created his own style of design that was unique to his character.
Virgil was not only one of the first streetwear designers to cross over to the high fashion world, but what made his transition special was that he was a Black male that had graduated from the ranks of streetwear into high fashion. Streetwear has grown to be very popular and many of the pioneers such as Bobby Hundreds, Chris Union, James Jebbia, and Shawn Stussy have never made that leap into the high fashion world until Virgil Abloh arrived. Abloh created Pyrex Vision and took the streetwear brand as far as he could until he created Off-White which has become a very popular brand known for its hazard and arrow sign designs. The difference between Off-White and Pyrex Vision is that Virgil created Off-White to live in different spaces within the art world. It was genius marketing because it allowed Off-White’s existence past just clothing, Off-White could be considered art or design depending how Virgil wanted his brand viewed. I watchedVirgil’s lecture at Harvard. He had some design rules he lived by. One he named the “3%” rule which was simply to never work on anything more than 3% because you would then start to spend too much time on an idea instead of putting your idea into the ethos. Now looking at this rule, it makes me think that Virgil knew he had a terminal disease all along and he was trying to put as many ideas out as he possibly could before he ran out of time.
Originally I started this article off explaining what an architect is because an architect has a end goal to their vision. It may seem very chaotic during the process but once the project is complete you get a beautiful building. In this case, Virgil constructed the house of Virgil for a new generation of upcoming designers and creatives. Virgil took a classic sneaker silhouette and modified it by 3% and created the Off-White Nike Air Force 1. After the success of the OW-AF1 he then leveraged his success with Nike and began to modify other Nike silhouettes and every shoe through Off-White has been a success. Abloh used Off-White as a bridge to tap into different markets by doing coffee shop pop ups, installations at art galleries and events such as Art Basel in Miami, all while still producing complete fashion collections every season for the Off-White brand. Eventually all of his success with Off-White led Louis Vuitton to reach out to him to be the Artistic director for the LV menswear line in 2018.
Seeing someone who looks like me and who has come from the same streetwear background that I grew up in make it to that level was beyond inspiring. Virgil gave us SB Blazers, graphic T-shirts and New Era hat-wearing, who-listens-to-rap-music-with-no-fashion- design- background kids hope that we could all become Artistic Directors and Designers for large fashion houses if we stayed true to ourselves. Virgil was a true architect in building a bridge for our culture to thrive in different spaces we were not welcomed to in the past. Being a part of this culture we tend to get so caught up with a design which is a materialistic product that is man-made and miss the bigger picture of what the designer or artist is trying to achieve. In this case Virigil was trying to open a door for an upcoming generation to push the culture forward through design, which is a much larger vision than a pair of Nikes with a zip tie tag.