They say she is one of the busiest people in the world. but yet Virgil Abloh always seems to find time to do everything. American of Ghanaian origins, born in 1980, from that famous internship at Fendi in 2006 – together with Kanye West, for those who still don’t know – the step to planetary ascent was rather short. In the middle: the launch of Off-White, the final of the LVMH Prize, the global streetwear revolution, a show at Pitti, the appointment as creative director of Louis Vuitton, a major exhibition in Chicago and an avalanche of important collaborations – above all Nike and Ikea – who turned it into King Midas of co-branding. Today it is not easy to explain Virgil Abloh, but we can try using the words of his own bio, where he defines himself “architect, engineer, creative and artistic director, industrial designer, fashion designer, musician and DJ, philanthropist“. Abloh, in short, is many things together, in an eclectic mesh-up of different roles, interests and passions which today represent its greatest strength.
His multidisciplinary vision, creative strength, communicative power and innate ability to intercept new trends and make them his own, have made Abloh one of the most influential and talked about personalities of our times. So much so, even Braun, on the occasion of his 100th anniversary, has given himself a collaboration with Virgil, or rather: a real one functional artwork co-signed that not only celebrates the important milestone of the German brand, but also enhances its fundamental values of “good design”. The result is a new version of the iconic wall-mounted stereo system “Wandanlage“ designed by Dieter Rams in 1965, now transformed from a sleek metallic finish that blends the aesthetic of Braun’s shiny chrome design with Abloh’s cultural references – such as Mamie Smith’s bluesy band and the typical shiny, custom cars made famous by ’80s hip hop stars. Still fully functional, the work will soon be unveiled to the world, along with one exclusive musical composition, specially designed by Abloh to test its sound.
Invited by Braun to speak personally with Virgil about this important project, we asked the designer to tell us more about the collaboration born for the 100th anniversary of the brand, the choice to reinterpret the Wandalage, fashion and reselling, his role at Vuitton, the support to the black community and all the new projects he is working on at the moment. Here is everything he told us.
The interview with Virgil Abloh
Braun has chosen you as a brand collaborator to celebrate its centenary, a collection and an entire program dedicated to good design. What does this brand and its history represent for you?
For me, celebrating 100 years of a brand is something exciting, it means that that brand has influenced people’s lives for many generations, and as a designer I believe this is the most important goal: the things we do throughout our existence continue. to live even further. Braun is a fantastic company for its genre, for the attention to design in commercial products, which is also the basis of my philosophy.
As a brand collaborator, you had the chance to access Braun’s archive to bring a functional work of art to life by reinventing the iconic 1965 Wandanlage hi fi audio wall unit. Why did you choose this product and what struck you most about Dieter Rams’ design?
I have always thought that the Wall Unit is an extraordinary design icon. It takes something like sound, puts it on a wall and becomes an object to look at. I truly believe that this practical approach is something we have to learn from our time, which is why I chose something that for me was almost a canvas on which to draw my ideas with a more contemporary sensibility.
What was the first record you heard about the finished work?
I’m working on a new composition. I think it’s an amazing opportunity to bring my musical background into design. We are working on a kind of unique composition, on a sound design to complete the finished work of art. It will therefore not only be a visual project, but also a sound one.
The fundamentals of good design – according to Braun – translate into “simple, useful and built to last”. What are the indispensable and unmistakable characteristics of Abloh’s design?
The distinctive element of my design is materiality, taken care of through very precise choices. For the Wall Unit I used polished chrome as the main design element, not only for its cultural significance, but also for its metaphysical meaning, which has always fascinated me.
For its centenary, Braun has launched a limited edition celebratory collection of its flagship products. If you think back to your first 20 years in design, recently celebrated with the Figures of Speech exhibition in Chicago, what are the creations that have most marked your career?
I created a Michael Jordan inspired sneaker, the Jordan ONE, and I would put it in the same category as the original version, they have the same deep cultural significance as the Wall Unit, the original and my reinterpretation. Both objects have the same approach that I usually have with respect to an existing classic, this is how evolution works metaphorically.
We can see your appointment as creative director of Louis Vuitton as a turning point in your career. What were the greatest difficulties and satisfactions you experienced in these first years as a creative director?
I think the biggest challenge was somehow honing my work for such a large audience. When you work in a very niche field you can keep a certain tone of voice and certain nuances, but the work at Louis Vuitton allows me to have an extraordinary platform to present my ideas, season after season I always maintain a very careful approach to nuances, and creativity. I don’t put the things I do in a hierarchy, for me the greatest satisfaction is simply being creative, every day. This is what makes my job rewarding.
Even the partnership with Nike – now told in the book “ICONS Something’s Off” – has had enormous success, so much so that the collaboration The Ten is perhaps among the most resellated collections in the world. What do you think about the reselling phenomenon in fashion and streetwear?
I think it is proof that design has reached an important peak from a cultural point of view. Whether it’s the Wall Unit, or a Braun device, it’s how it relates to my approach, just as a shoe model or a piece of art shows that design is something you can relate to, something which is still a driving force of culture.
You declared “Opening new doors for the Black community has always been, and will always be, the focus of my career”. A commitment that you carry out through various forms of advocacy, such as the recent launch of the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund. Have you ever been discriminated against in your career as a designer for the color of your skin?
Yes, launching the Post-Modern Scholarship Fund was as important to me as the work embedded in my practice, opening doors to people like me, and always keeping them open thanks to a change brought forward not only with support, but also with infrastructure. With the Scholarship Fund we not only offer mentorship, but also financial support to more than 80 design schools in the USA. As our world is made, discrimination is suffered by minorities, but I am an optimist. For me it is important to focus on the positive actions that can be carried out during our life to try to change things, to help others not to have to suffer things like these anymore.
What impact has the pandemic had on your work and what do you think of the new digital approach that is revolutionizing the world of fashion shows?
The pandemic gives us time to reflect and think, to have a less superficial approach, the pace at which we travel and the pace of production slow down and for creatives like me it is a way to think more deeply about things. I like the new digital approach, I like the fact that the climate changes, that’s why I don’t live in Los Angeles. I live in a place where there are all four seasons, because the environment determines a new mood, new ideas, diversity. The fact that fashion shows go from physical to digital for me is an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and not carry on the same logic of the past.
Among your passions there are also music and djing. Have you ever thought about launching your own music festival? Who do we find in the line-up in the festival of your dreams?
Yes, I’m someone who has ideas for anything. Maybe we’ll do a music festival and the Wall Unit will be the star. My ideal line-up? What a difficult question, the list would be very long. I pick one, Prince. That would be so cool!
What are the goals and good intentions you have set for 2021?
For this year I will continue to tell stories to represent a complete picture of humanity, create new stories and share them on my platform. This is the metaphor of my approach to work. There will be an exhibition of mine at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, another one in Qatar that I am working on right now. So everyday creative work ends up in a kind of artistic space in museums, but for me it all comes down to the same practice.