By the time Michael Rock, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, had finished introducing Virgil Abloh Monday evening, the designer and creative director had already changed the title of his speech.
What was once billed as ""Everything in Quotes"" (double quotations intentional — the quotes themselves were part of the title, because everything in quotes is also meta) became the decidedly less meta "Young Architects Can Change the World by Not Building Buildings"—a philosophy Abloh himself has lived. Abloh earned his Masters in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006, and his extra-curricular practice, which has included creative directing Kanye West, collaborations with brands large and small like No Vacancy Inn, Moncler, and Levi's, furniture design, photography, and his label-cum-lifestyle brand, has extended into all genres.
So, the Chicago native stopped by Columbia on Monday, amid rumors he might be in the running to succeed Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, to share a few pearls of wisdom, set to a soundtrack of his own fashion shows and a bit of Migos. (He managed to sneak in a reference to Raf Simons, an admitted inspiration of his who recently told GQ Style he appreciated Abloh, but didn't find him inspiring, along the way.) "Lectures like this is where I formulated my whole plan," Abloh said by way of introduction.
A half an hour late, Abloh still put on his best academic face to break down his creative process—“I’m unveiling things that don’t fit on Instagram,” he explained—looked back at some of his earliest work, and hinted at projects to come. Here, the 10 most important—and most esoteric—lessons we learned from Professor Virgil Abloh's Columbia University debut.
It's Okay to Wing It
Just like Abloh did, for this talk. And like he did in architecture school. On his first day of class, he explained, a professor told an auditorium full of fresh-faced students that only 3 percent of them would end up building buildings. "Touché," Abloh recalled thinking, because he wasn't planning on being an architect of buildings, anyways.
Memes Are King
"Irony is a tool for modern creativity," Abloh said, somewhat obscurely. "There's a reason why we all probably look at 60 memes a day." Including the meme that is Off-White—after all, "it's not a brand"—instead, "it's a faux-luxury product."
You Can Put Quotes Around Everything
"I love the fact that Off-White can be questioned," Abloh said. There's a reason the talk was initially titled "Everything in Quotes." Off-White is all about the meta. Quotes call into question the very phrases they surround (just think of the quotations sprinkled so liberally through the tweets of president Donald J. Trump)—including, at various points during the talk, "Millennials," "Columbia University," and "Democratic Duty."
He's Still Sore About That Raf Simons Comment
"One day, I knew I would get the critique that Off-White is uninspirational," Abloh said as he showed highlights from the lengthy documentary he made about the label, referencing Simons's recent comments to GQ Style. Cue collective laughter.
Abloh Really Loves Supreme, Ed Hardy, Luka Sabbat
"It's the kids on Prince and Mercer," Abloh said multiple times, referring to the young people who queue up—sometimes for blocks on end—outside Supreme's Soho location each day. Apparently, Luka Sabbat is the quintessential Off-White kid (and quintessential Art Dad), proving with a simple graphic tee that gender is a construct: "I love the idea of Luka Sabbat wearing the 'Woman' crew-neck from Off-White. That, to me, it makes it valid." Also valid: Ed Hardy. "Is Off-White Ed Hardy?" Abloh said. "Who knows? Ed Hardy's cool." He laughed. "I'm going to get in trouble. This is all going to go South very fast."
You can see Tokyo without going to Japan, all airports look the same, all brands often appear the same, he explained; "You can go to the cool matcha spot in New York without even going to Cha Cha Matcha." Abloh's M.O.? Make everything "3 percent to 5 percent" different from its source material. Everything stems from that first encounter with the professor who told him he wouldn't build buildings—so instead of building a building, he just put it on a t-shirt.
Designing Kanye West's Yeezus Album Cover Was Kind of Like Designing the Coca-Cola Can
Stores Are Corny
"It's a fact. Who wants to be sold anything?" Again, a trolling moment: Instead of making a store, Abloh made a simulacrum of a store in Tokyo for his flagship, "Something and Associates."
Migos is a Suitable Soundtrack For All Occasions, Including a Columbia Grad School Lecture
Donald Glover knows best.
Over the course of his hour-and-a-half-long symposium, Abloh hinted at no fewer than five upcoming projects (not including the Givenchy rumors, which he did not address). He's got a book in the works, which might be upwards of 400 pages; a collaboration with Nike that may or may not come to fruition, but at least there's a prototype, which he passed around during the talk; a furniture show (expanding on the one that showed at Design Miami), slated for 2019; and another furniture collaboration with an as-yet-unnamed "super-awesome design furniture company" aimed at offering more affordable selections. Plus, he floated the idea, more loosely, of releasing DIY clothing kits, offering both patterns and materials to make your very own Off-White. Or Off-Blue. Whatever color you like. Virgil Abloh: not an architect; not a designer.
Virgil Abloh Has No Chill
"I'm really happy to sort of, in my design career, have no chill," he said. So he's doing a bit of everything.
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