In a talk titled ‘CULTURE’, the pair explore streetwear’s past, present and future.
Designer Virgil Abloh was in London last weekend, but not to show a new Off-White collection. Instead, he set up Off Campus, a series of talks and events publicising the launch of his new collaboration with Nike. Entitled ‘The Ten’, the collection features – you guessed it – ten of the brand’s iconic styles of trainer with an Abloh twist: the Blazer, the Air Jordan 1 and Converse’s Chuck Taylor each come cable tied and clearly labelled (like a fashion-forward anatomy chart) with “FOAM”, “AIR” and “SHOELACES.”
“Everyone has a memory associated with all these shoes,” Abloh said, “They've followed our transition from the music scene when Kurt Cobain started wearing Chuck Taylors and infused energy into the shoe. With Air Max I think rave shoes, Jordan makes you think of the history of Air Force Ones and New York City.”
Various workshops were open and free for those who managed to secure a place by registering online, including the opportunity to customise your own Air Force 1s with the help of mentors including Grace Wales Bonner and Michele Lamy. There was also an education in t-shirt making with Martine Rose and an ‘Agit-zine’ experience with graphic designer Neville Brody.
We dropped by The Barbican’s cinema last Friday, where Abloh was joined by Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director Kim Jones and an audience of streetwear fans. Interviewed by SHOWStudio editor-at-large, Lou Stoppard, the pair had an hour to share their plans for streetwear world domination and explore the iconic style history of the Air Jordan 1. Here are the main takeaways.
VIRGIL ON KIM
Abloh first met Jones backstage at an event in 2007 with mutual friend Kanye West, and the Off-White founder had a pretty big compliment for him. “The designer that I always wanted in the modern industry is Kim Jones, he is the epitome of high fashion and streetwear,” Abloh said, referring to the way Jones has authentically worked across both worlds. He also discussed a time he spent being mentored by him, saying, “I slept on his couch in a front room in Maida Vale and forced him to teach me stuff, I spent a summer sitting there with him. Before the terms streetwear or luxury existed, he was bringing forth street culture ideas through the high fashion system.”
KIM JONES ON BLENDING HIGH FASHION AND STREETWEAR
Although Jones has been at the helm of Louis Vuitton’s menswear for six years, streetwear has been in his blood since he studied at Central Saint Martins. “For me, whenever I’ve done stuff it's always been half and half, never one thing. A logo is a logo, like with the Nike swoosh it’s the same as the Louis Vuitton monogram. When I was at college I loved Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen but I also loved Supreme and Bathing Ape.” It became clear that Jones’ obsession with street culture runs deeper than just inspiration when he claimed, “People talk about streetwear but where else would you wear clothes. What I like about it is it’s very authentic, it comes from a genuine place.”
ON TRAILBLAZING OVER CONSUMPTION
Streetwear is often looked down upon from the lofty heights of ready-to-wear, but Abloh and Jones are both renowned for introducing it into the high fashion sphere with catwalks shows in Paris. “My motivation is angst, and feeling that I don’t belong or more to the fact that our generation doesn't belong. We’re coming off the era where high fashion brands are inspired by us and we’re just consuming what is registered back to us,” Abloh explained. “I made a conscious decision that I would not just be a consumer; I wanted to trailblaze and have at least one of us at the end of a Parisian runway.”
ON DISRUPTING EXISTING BRANDS
For many designers, founding a brand with such a powerful trajectory would be more than enough, but not for Abloh. “My goal is that off of activations like this talk, there are ten more Kim Jones...hopefully soon there will be more people in the industry that come from our school of thought.” Abloh’s own success with Off-White isn’t enough – he wants streetwear to be better respected too. “Streetwear is about a whole generation of people who didn't go to fashion school or come from traditional means. The easy way to write it off is to say that it’s not fashion, it’s high street but there are seminal moments in this way of making clothes. You can’t tell me that Supreme isn't my Louis Vuitton. Growing up with Stüssy and teenagers with skateboards, those are the brands that are important to me. I just want to make sure that the door is open for these kids to feel like they can design fashion too.”
“I just want to make sure that the door is open for these kids to feel like they can design fashion too” – Virgil Abloh
Jones also worked at a streetwear distributor in his youth, something that no doubt inspired the game-changing AW17 Supreme collab. “For me I was very lucky because I got access to a lot of things other people couldn’t, I had Lee McQueen mentor me and Gimme Five introducing me to Nico, Hiroshi, Jun Takahashi and all these people that I really admire and respect. So you fuse all that together and you can create your own thing as well.” This didn’t distract Jones from staying grounded and remembering who he wanted to design for: “It’s just about thinking what your friends want to wear.”
ON AN EDUCATION
In a world steeped in plagiarism, where designers are ripped off left right and centre without even so much as a nod, Abloh’s goal is to design informatively and teach a younger generation about what came before – hence partnerships with legends like Peter Saville. “Pretty much every collection is about me getting on the internet and cold calling everyone from the previous era and getting them to come back and use Off-White as an education device to bridge the gap. That’s always been how I thought we could take on this figurative fashion thing and actually support a community.” Abloh went on to talk about how figures like Hiroshi Fujiwara, Nigo and A-Ron Bondaroff inspire him. “There are so many stories that pre-date now. There’s like 35 brands that failed off the back of Off-White being able to get to where it is, so I have to respect somebody pioneering making t-shirts before, at a time that there wasn't an opportunity for a line to sell out.”