Think of couture and streetwear as the hands of God and man in Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” Though frozen in time on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it is a void charged with the momentum of life. Do the hands touch in the painting? No, but it foretells the inevitable. The space between couture and streetwear has always been suggested but never consolidated until now. That space is the grey area between black and white defined by Virgil Abloh as “Off-White.”
One of streetwear’s most celebrated labels today, Off-White started with screen-printed t-shirts and hoodies out of no real design studio or office. Although most might now be familiar with the iconic quotation marks and diagonal lines, the conceptual theory behind the pieces is much more confounding than just “looking modern industrial.” Abloh consistently uses ironic humor in the design process. One of the earlier Off-White pieces that really spoke to me was the Caravaggio hoodie; I remember seeing it in person for the first time in Barney’s Downtown New York in front of the spiraling white marble staircase. It felt right and wrong at the same time, it was hanging still but there was movement—it was like looking at a room full of Rothkos. There was so much drama in the seemingly taped-on Madonna of the Rosary juxtaposed on an almost silent hoodie. Caravaggio was a Renaissance avant-garde, but a hoodie is just part of the norm in our contemporary time. Timelines intersect in Abloh’s works. He connects the beginning and temporary end through a straight line.
Abloh being appointed creative director for Louis Vuitton in March is the confirmation that street culture is being recognized by even the most discerning fashion houses. The movement that is being pushed by kids who line up outside at midnight for Jordans is not just an underground trend anymore; it is sitting front and center at fashion week. Established labels have long excluded this generation due to the lack of concrete and traditional education in design. Abloh saw this disconnect, and in his own words, refused to be just another consumer. He is speaking directly to the youth of today and is not afraid to include those who studied and understood what designers were doing before they could afford their pieces.
To me, Abloh is much more than just a designer. He is the revolutionary that draws the next mark on the timeline. During a GQ interview, when asked about why Off-White is so expensive if it is focused on youth, he said: “This concept of a brand, the image, what the clothing looks like, that’s free. Go make your own version of it. It’s meant to inspire.”
COVER PHOTO: Harvard University