As he launches an online-mentorship program with Mastered, the designer and art director dissects success
“I felt a lot when coming up that I didn't necessarily have anyone to show me the road that you could go down, finding a career in fashion or art direction,” says Virgil Abloh. The mastermind behind Off-White, who last season debuted on the runway at Paris Fashion Week, Abloh is on a mission to intellectualise streetwear – giving it credibility and a longevity in fashion that goes beyond the cycle of hype. This goal is why he’s lending what he’s learned to the next generation of designers looking to find their feet in the industry, through partnering with online education program Mastered. Starting on May 10th, the fifteen-week crash course overseen by Abloh is designed to help take existing brands to the next level. In anticipation, he unpacks some lessons he’s learned on the way.
IDENTIFY YOUR VISION
What should design hopefuls focus on? “A concept, an original idea. That source of inspiration – you have to find a focal point,” says Abloh, who admits his own work is a mixture of “reverting back to (his) 17-year-old-self” thanks to its nods to skate, hip-hop and rock music, combined with the other references he’s picked up over the years. But when it comes to finding your niche, it’s important not to force it – “I think it should come with ease, finding that spark,” he says. “If it comes with ease, the more convincing it will be to the public.”
FIND YOUR CREW
From Heron Preston to Kanye West, Abloh is well known for the group of tastemakers he collaborates with, and is a firm believer that creativity doesn’t happen in isolation. “I'm just surrounding myself with people that are creative and have a high taste level,” he says. “I think that's important for kids to understand that they need to be part of a creative network that pushes your work further.” And if you live in the middle of nowhere? “It's the digital age! You should make friends online – bounce off each other and develop ideas like that.”
DON’T GET HUNG UP ON INSTAGRAM
Today, mastering social media is important – but brands have to have something of quality behind that perfectly curated Instagram feed. “I think people can lose sight of the fact that the clothes have to relate to real people, and not just to like, digital things or a digital response,” Abloh says – in other words, remember that someone will be wearing whatever you make, and for more than just a fit pic. When it comes to marketing yourself, it just depends what message you’re trying to put out there. “You can have a brand which is logo-based and selling that as its main appeal, or you can have an aesthetic, have no logos – and that is the logo.”
“I think that's important for kids to understand that they need to be part of a creative network that pushes your work further” – Virgil Abloh
DON’T EXPECT SUCCESS TO HAPPEN OVERNIGHT
Today’s culture of instant sharing means that brands can explode into cult phenomenons overnight – but it’s important to know this won’t always be the case. “I think social media and everything means that people want success to happen faster,” he explains. “But it happens at a certain pace, it can't happen fast. It's a good thing to just put your head down and get on with it. It takes years to be successful, it's not something that happens overnight.” Work hard, and you will be rewarded – Abloh himself never studied fashion, instead making a name for himself with the launch of his DIY clothing brand Pyrex Vision.
BE AWARE OF WHAT’S OUT THERE – BUT STAY ORIGINAL
In the age of the internet, it’s impossible not to see what the competition is up to. Of course, staying original is key – but knowing what the rest of the world is working on isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “I think that being aware is important – you have to look at a lot, you have to study a lot and immerse yourself in what's happening,” Abloh says. “That way you can critically look at what you're doing and make sure that it's different from what everyone else is doing.”
KEEP FOCUSING ON WHAT’S NEXT
It’s important not to spend too long congratulating your wins, or feeling bad about the mistakes. “I wouldn't put something out if I wasn’t happy with it, but I'm quick to move on to something else,” Abloh says. “My outlook on creating is that it’s part of a process, and you need to always be able to go on to the next idea, no matter if it's a success or a failure.” When it comes to his own past, he has no regrets “I wouldn't do anything different. My goal has always been to just keep creating.”