NEW YORK — After nearly three years of planning, Off-White designer Virgil Abloh finally got the opportunity to give a lecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Abloh has undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Illinois Institute of Technology, respectively.
During the talk titled “Young Architects Can Change the World Without Building Buildings,” Abloh revealed two new collaborations — one with Nike and another with a furniture company, which he did not name. Other topics included a book of fashion editorials he’s working on and the rise and fall of Pyrex — and how it directly inspired Off-White. He also played Migos’ song “T-shirt,” which was a “life goal, because the stuff that interests youth culture is important, the stuff that we make is important,” he said. “Who is to say that we can’t start cross referencing these things to have a larger feeling? That’s sort of the freedom I create.” What was not up for discussion were the reports that Abloh is in talks with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to succeed Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy.
Here, a recap of Abloh’s remarks.
ON COLLABORATIONS, PRESENT AND FUTURE: Toward the end of the two-hour lecture, Abloh, who was wearing black low-top Air Force 1s with a metallic swoosh, threw a pair of white high-top Nike Blazers with a deformed navy swoosh out into the crowd. Both shoes were stamped on the side with “Off-White c/o Nike.” Thus he unveiled his Nike collaboration, the release of which is TBD.
“This is what I am attempting to do with streetwear, nudging it forward,” Abloh said. “If I were to say, ‘Close your eyes and imagine Off-White Air Forces,’ you would have imagined diagonal stripes, which is great — and exactly what I won’t do.” He described the project as, “an opportunity to create a new layer and vocabulary.”
In other news, he said he will be releasing a book filled with more than 400 images that he shot all in one day, and briefly touched on a furniture collection in the works. He’s no stranger to home design — Abloh exhibited furniture at Art Basel in Miami in 2016 and is showing more in 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
ON LESSONS FROM ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL: “A critical moment for me was Day One of architecture school,” he said. “I walked in and my professor, who will remain unnamed, but was a cruel individual — which is a classic older generation to younger generation [dynamic], to deflate youth and young energy — hit us with a fact that ‘Only three percent of you are going to build buildings.’ And I was, like, ‘Touché, I didn’t come here to build buildings, so these next three years will be a lot more fun for me.’”
ON STREETWEAR AND “FAUX-LUXURY” PRODUCTS: Abloh showed “Pyrex Vision,” a 10-minute film directed by artist Jim Joe which inspired his first streetwear brand Pyrex, launched in Chicago in 2013. Abloh described the line as a part of the learning curve.
“[It was] basically putting out your bad work. Pyrex wasn’t made to be a clothing brand. That’s why I stopped, there isn’t much taste in that, but it was a domino effect for me.”
The branding from Pyrex represented the belief that impoverished black neighborhoods in Chicago only saw two ways out: either to sell drugs, (hence the Pyrex name, which is used to make crack-cocaine) or to be a basketball player. Shirts from the collection were stamped with the number 23 — Michael Jordan’s jersey number. Abloh later discussed Off-White as a “faux-luxury product, it’s a playground [where]…I can make T-shirts, do shows and make something that moves culturally beyond four walls.”