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Off-White’s Grey Area

In 2018, when Louis Vuitton named Virgil Abloh as their men’s wear artistic director, Abloh the founder of Off-White, a Nike collaborator and the former creative director for Kanye West, became one of the first black designers at the top of a French heritage house.

Born in Rockford, Illinois (U.S.A.) in 1980, Virgil Abloh is an artist, architect, and fashion designer. After earning a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he obtained his master’s degree in Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. It was here where Abloh was introduced to the curriculum established by Mies van der Rohe, formed from the notions of Bauhaus, that taught him to combine the fields of art, craft and design.

Initially, Abloh was revered in the streets and the runway, and held up by many as a role model. “To show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start,” he said two years ago in an interview with The New York Times.

However, the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer spurred anger and fear especially within the Black community. As Black Lives Matter protests across the United States began to gain traction, Abloh became a symbol of disappointment for many. Social media—the communication tool that he ingeniously used to build his empire,especially from the subculture of Black Twitter–began to call him out as a role model, and a pioneer. 

As reports of protests and looting spread across the country, Abloh started publicly chastising looters for damaging businesses to which he had a personal connection via his Instagram Stories. He began with a familiar topic: the notion that “streetwear is dead.”

Tensions were further inflamed when Abloh posted a screenshot to show that he had made a $50 donation to a Miami art collective called Fempower to help with the legal expenses of arrested protesters. Twitter swiftly took exception to the amount of the donation, with scores of users pointing out that most of Abloh’s products cost multiples of that amount

Criticism was also leveled at Louis Vuitton, Abloh’s employer, which appeared to go ahead with a women’s handbag launch  via influencers on Instagram, despite the obvious human rights crisis that continued, and continues to be fought.None of the opprobrium has reached the level now surrounding Abloh. “Once you’re a success, especially a unique success, and a pop culture exemplar, this comes with the territory,” said Bethann Hardison, a former model and modeling agent, and a longtime advocate for diversity in fashion. “You become a victim of it, but you are also a winner of it, and you have to wear that crown. The question is how you wear it.”

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“I will continue to donate more and will continue to use my voice to urge partners to do the same,” he continued, adding that he was hesitant to share specific figure because he didn’t want it to look like he wanted “to be applauded for it,” while regretting that it let to “false assumptions.”

“As many have said, buildings are brick and mortar and material things can be replaced, people can’t,” he wrote. “Black lives matter. In this moment, those other things don’t.”

To add icing to the  cake Abloh has received even more backlash for a lackluster attempt at slain rapper’s Pop Smoke upcoming album cover that he designed. It’s been a bumpy couple of months for Abloh. The entire fashion industry has all eyes on him to see how he will finesse his way out of this mess. But, if there is anything I know about fashion, it’s that fashion is forgiving.  Especially if his artistry shines through in his next line.

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