CHICAGO — Virgil Abloh has a long list of accomplishments that include creative directing one of the biggest music talents in the world and art directing one of the world’s most successful fashion houses. And he got there by skipping class.
“I’m a huge advocate for skipping class,” he said to a handful of students during a Fashion Deconstructed panel hosted here by the Jordan brand for students of its Wings program. “I remember for my final thesis for my master’s program, I essentially pinned up my work so my professor thought I was there and then I skipped class to go to a Kanye ‘College Dropout’ record signing like 10 blocks away.”
Abloh was joined by Dior Men’s artistic director Kim Jones, Jordan athlete and Washington Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura, and Jordan vice president of design Martin Lotti for the panel discussion and workshop, held at the Jordan Hub23 pop-up at the General Richard L. Jones Armory in Chicago on Saturday during NBA All-Star Weekend.
The panel was one of four events Jordan hosted over the weekend, including a design panel with Russell Westbrook, the Female Quotient with women exploring masculine and feminine leadership styles, the impact of women in the workplace and the work/life balance, and a dance workshop with Teyana Taylor. The brand also hosted a high school basketball tournament over the weekend at the Hub23.
“This weekend is what I’m all about,” Abloh said. “I drove here from my house, I went to school at [Illinois Institute of Technology] literally 10 minutes from here. I love design and fashion and all those sorts of culturally important things, but the great thing about a moment like this is the synthesis of a lot of different things from pop culture to storytelling about the history of Chicago sports. This is a very important city that’s home to a lot of us but it has contributed a lot to the world of basketball, culture and fashion.”
He added, “I’m an advocate for also understanding culturally what’s happening as well as your craft. It’s influenced by more than just fashion and more than just sneaker culture. You need to be able to hybrid two different things.”
The relationship between fashion and basketball was the focal point of the panel, given the Air Jordan I High ‘Dior’ sneakers were front and center on Jones and its designer, and Abloh debuted a white colorway of his Off-White x Air Jordan V sneakers. Jones and Abloh also designed collaboration sneakers with Nike and Jordan in the past and soccer kits in 2018.
Jones also gave advice to the students that didn’t involve cutting class: “Take things you’re interested in and mix it all up and make something new up, but do something that’s you.”
Prior to partnering with the likes of Jordan, Stussy, 1017 Alyx 9SM, Ambush Design and Daniel Arsham for Dior, Jones turned the men’s wear world upside down, partnering with Supreme when he was men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton. Some pieces from the collaboration are now worth as much as a Birkin bag at auction.
He continued, “Don’t do something that’s someone else, and don’t be afraid to take risks and try something. Mix it up, don’t worry about what other people think; it’s what you believe and then people start paying attention to it.”
Abloh said to the students to close the panel, “There’s no better time than now to be as young as you are and at the beginning of your career. Your seats are more important than the ones we’re on. You should tell us through design what’s important in the world. Sustainability, equality, diversity, these are things you’ll always hear from big brands, but we’re already lagging because it’s your generation, it’s your world that you’re inheriting. You’re going to decide and if you think about it like that instead of looking at us, [you can] solve the world’s issues through the box of tools in front of you.”
After the panel, the students teamed up to design a hoodie using Jordan, Off-White, and “Air Dior” motifs. Jordan Brand athlete Carmelo Anthony took the stage after the panel to reveal that two students would receive joint Jordan and Off-White and joint Jordan and Dior scholarships and a week in Italy and a week in Paris for the brands.
After the official event ended, Jones spoke to WWD about partnering with Jordan, NBA All-Star Weekend and Chicago and his thoughts on Kobe Bryant.
WWD: Could you tell me about your experience partnering with Jordan?
Kim Jones: For me, it’s amazing because it’s a shoe I’ve worn all of my adult life and this brand and Jordan himself have been an inspiration to me since Day One of my creative life. It’s just a really amazing thing. For me [Jordan is] the best in the world, also working with Christian Dior also being the best in the world and fusing those together I think is where we are now in modern fashion.
WWD: Do you frequent Chicago?
K.J.: Last time I came to Chicago was in 2008 with Kanye for his Homecoming Tour and I was with Virgil and everybody. That was in a bit of warmer weather, but I went around yesterday and saw the stores and the energy and wish I had a little bit longer here. I’m going to come back when it’s sunnier because it’s a really beautiful city and there’s a lot going on. I love music and [Chicago is] where house music comes from and it’s that interesting thing of how people were mixing up things and playing around with stuff. It seems like this city has it. It’s a way of bringing one point in and then going out with something new, which is really interesting.
WWD: What are your thoughts on NBA All Star Weekend, too? Is this your first one?
K.J.: Yes, it is, and it’s kind of insane. It’s like, it’s really full on, but it’s kind of amazing. I don’t really get time to come to these sorts of things so I’m sort of a bit overwhelmed.
WWD: One of the things that’s top of mind this weekend is Kobe Bryant and his legacy. What are your thoughts on the player and the man.
K.J.: I just find that completely tragic and awful not only for him but for his daughter as well and for his whole family. He was an inspiration to so many people and all you hear are positive things about him. When I saw his daughter [died] as well, that’s what really got me. But looking at the legacy that he’s created and the respect, it’s a sad thing that sometimes the respect comes after someone has died. It’s important to let people know when they’re alive, too.
WWD: Let’s talk about men’s wear in general. Where are you taking it?
K.J.: Wherever I work, I work for the brand, but they allow me to do things that I love doing. Taking the savoir faire of Christian Dior and making an Air Jordan I out of it is something that’s completely mind-blowing to me that I can even do that, and the fact that they respect me enough to do that is really good fun.
I think men’s wear right now is in a really interesting place. It seems to be really at the same level as women’s wear and I think that’s because myself and Virgil and other designers are really pushing. We’re just doing what we want to do. Also, we’re in touch with a lot of people and it’s like the designers in the ivory towers seem to be going out of fashion because they’re not seeing what’s happening in the world. You need to be down here and talking to people and seeing what people are doing to move forward. A young kid will come to us as a worker, but if they come to us with brilliant ideas we’ll keep them in the design studio. When you meet people and you know they’re great, you want them to be that.
WWD: Could we talk about the relationship between fashion and basketball and how much it’s growing?
K.J.: Well, it’s like when we did the Jordan collection I looked to what he wore off the court, not on the court, because I wanted to see how he was living and working and he was celebrating his success. For me it seemed like the actual thing that ties in with fashion made complete sense.
WWD: What do the next few months look like for you?
K.J.: I am going to be working a lot over the next few months. I’m off to London on Monday and then in Tokyo on Tuesday evening. That’s how it’s rolling.