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Virgil Abloh on the power of being creative without limits

We catch up with the ultimate multi-hyphenate ahead of the unveiling of a new work in collaboration with Kaleidoscope

From architecture, music, and fashion to furniture design and installations, few contemporary figures span the spectrum of culture as vastly as Virgil Abloh. Revisiting his prolific career dissipates all doubts – Abloh isn’t a fan of labels, refusing to accept the rigid categorisation of artistic disciplines for the sake of simplicity.

While Abloh’s rise to fashion fame has been meteoric since the 2012 launch of streetwear titan Off-White, further cemented by his appointment as creative director of Vuitton in March 2018, his status as a household name remains relatively recent.

In reality, the former architecture student’s interdisciplinary career is already more than 15 years in the making, counting achievements diverse enough to make putting Abloh in a box, impossible – an established reputation as a DJ, a collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and a collection of ‘flooring artworks’ created with IKEA are just some of the ways in which the hybrid artist is leaving a distinctive mark on culture.

Much has been written about Abloh’s ever-growing influence in changing the direction of the fashion industry specifically, by entirely rethinking both the design processes, and the aesthetic of luxury altogether – Abloh’s mission, however, was never to simply disrupt a single industry, but rather to offer a view of fashion, art, and culture as inherently linked, co-dependent, never isolated from one another.

For his latest project, a collective exhibition held at Milan’s Spazio Maiocchi, the Chicago native is staying true to his life-long creative mantra. Co-curated by Kaleidoscope, the show is a multimedia experience bringing together a large group of international artists – including Eric N. Mack and Collier Schorr – featured in the magazine’s Fall/Winter issue. Abloh himself will be the guest of honour: he is set to unveil a new installation and a billboard commission, alongside a specially designed collector’s edition of Kaleidoscope. Driven by a desire to transcend barriers and embrace change, Abloh is building a bridge between high culture and real life. He tells us more.

ON CONNECTING ART AND FASHION

“It happened naturally for me, I didn’t strategise it. I’ve never really thought in different disciplines – I like the idea of being creative without limits. For me, it’s about having an idea, a perspective, and then no matter the medium, expressing that.

What attracted me to the art world was seeing it as a resting place for ideas not necessarily tied to one medium. Art galleries, for example, are a place for setting up those ideas, not a manifestation of them. That’s what fashion is in my mind, too: a physical articulation of a concept, a series of thoughts, a critique, a point of view.”

ON THE ROLE OF YOUTH

“I like that the contemporary art world is forcing itself to be more useful and relate more to society at large. Young people play a huge part in creating the values of the future, and I believe in young people’s struggle to come to prominence. There is a lot of tension and friction surrounding the direction of the art, music and fashion world in the next three, four, ten years, but I believe in letting things take their natural course. Things are changing, and change is always good.”

ON HIS EARLY INSPIRATIONS

“Growing up, I was always more drawn towards the real world than the fashion or art spheres. That was my upbringing. I’d think it’s almost a bit weird to be introduced to fashion or to the gallery world as a kid. I gravitated towards the reality I saw around me, current culture, music, graffiti, skateboarding, hip hop. Those were the things that gave me my point of reference in understanding culture today. My point of view as an artist is rooted in this insight I have into the world, as a human. Art and fashion are just places where a dialogue on reality should be captured and expressed, the means to an end.”

“Art and fashion are just places where a dialogue on reality should be captured and expressed, the means to an end” – Virgil Abloh

ON WORKING WITH TAKASHI MURAKAMI

“I like Takashi’s perspective, I’ve known him for ten years, and his work makes him a bit of an outsider in the traditional contemporary art scene. The way in which he propels his aesthetic, coming from Japan onto the global stage kind of jumps over between generations, and I think this is where we align. Our work together is a dialogue rooted in a common desire to connect people across age groups, geographical spaces, and social categories.”

ON HAVING HIS WORK FEATURED IN A MET SHOW

“This exhibition in Milan is a precursor to the Met Costume Institute’s upcoming exhibition, Camp: Notes On Fashion, opening in 2019. It will feature some previously unseen work from my lesser known years. In a way, this will be a pinnacle of my practice so far. My approach to fashion has always been primarily rooted in culture, and seeing this vision come together in a museum show is a nice metaphor for the interconnectedness of life and art.”

Kaleidoscope’s Fall/Winter issue takeover is taking place tonight, November 30, between 7-9pm at Spazio Maiocchi, Via Maiocchi 7, 20129 Milano