Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton and founder of Off-White, has already had his fair share of highs and lows in 2019. In January, he successfully rolled out a glow-in-the-dark Louis Vuitton bag that promptly drove the Internet wild, only to roll out his Michael Jackson–inspired collection for the house at the worst imaginable moment. And before long, the other collection Abloh had been working on, for Off-White, would stir up some controversy of its own.
Two days after Abloh staged Off-White’s fall 2019 men’s show, the industry watchdog Diet Prada Instagrammed two looks from the collection—displayed side by side with two looks by the up-and-coming designers Colrs and Gramm, to which Abloh’s designs bore an unmistakable resemblance.
It wasn’t the first time that Abloh caught Diet Prada’s attention. He’s done so on enough occasions, in fact, that The New Yorker felt compelled to ask him about it in a new profile, published on Monday. “Ring the alarm!” he responded in mock panic.
Yes, Abloh has been accused of knockoffs enough times to have a response at the ready. (See: the chair featured in his 2018 Markarad line for Ikea that seemed to directly reference the work of the modern furniture designer Paul McCobb, and the T-shirt he designed for Off-White in 2016 that featured lettering identical to a 1966 design by A. G. Fronzoni.) If any designer would pay attention to Diet Prada—and, according to Alber Elbaz, “every designer in the world is following Diet Prada”—it’s Abloh, the king of social media superinfluencers. And, indeed, he does: “All props to them, that’s a great concept,” he said of the watchdog account.
He didn’t stop there. It wasn’t long before he embarked on a Kanye-lite rant about the energy and negativity involved in accusations of plagiarism. Diet Prada, he continued, doesn’t take into consideration that coincidences can happen—and a coincidence is exactly what he thinks occurred in the case of his controversy with Colrs. According to Abloh, he did not see the looks that Diet Prada compared his to until after he offered his response, but even if he had, the similarities would apparently have seemed negligible: Both of the designs, he says, can be summed up as “basically the use of a yellow fabric with a pattern on it.”
To be fair, he was nowhere near as cruel to Diet Prada as others in the industry have been to him. Take Abloh’s “obsession” with Raf Simons, whose work he’s studied for more than a decade. Simons still didn’t know too much about Abloh when GQ spoke with him in 2017, and what little he did know of “the guy from Off-White,” he didn’t exactly like. “I’m inspired by people who bring something that I think has not been seen, that is original,” he said, somewhat softening the blow by adding, “He’s a sweet guy. I like him a lot actually.”
As usual, though, no one can top the late Karl Lagerfeld. His response last year when asked whether he’d rather spend the rest of his life on a deserted island with Simon Porte Jacquemus, Jonathan Anderson, or Abloh? “I’d kill myself first.”