As if the fact that he's a Wisconsin alum isn't reason enough to talk about him, there are so many dimensions to Virgil Abloh that are worth exploring. Most notably known as the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton and in charge of his own, incredibly popular street-style line, Off-White, Abloh is an ongoing success story. In an interview with The New Yorker by Doreen St. Félix, we are exposed to the depths of his thought processes, experiences, and inspirations. As college students but also as people, there are a plethora of lessons we can extract from Abloh's creative direction as well as out-of-the-box thinking and apply it to our everyday approach to life.
The innovative logic from Abloh that can be directly attributed to his success is his approach to education. He chose to come to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (a great choice, in my opinion) and his mom wanted him to study civil engineering. However, in the interview with St. Félix, he said in response to his mother's wishes, "[b]ut I was, like, 'I don't want to be an engineer in the classic sense, and the only way to not do that is to do fifty percent engineering, fifty percent life.'" The way he went about his program for "doing life" was by making dinner with his roommate for people at school to come and eat and the two of them profited from this. Additionally, he would DJ at a bar in Madison while his roommate bartended at the same one, and they would come home with huge amounts of money from tips throughout the night. Early on, Abloh recognized that good grades and a degree title wasn't going to cut it in the professional world if he wanted to make it big, so he started early by developing a sort of hustle through jobs; establishing financial support alongside his education.
Following his time at Wisconsin, Abloh attended the Illinois Institute of Technology where he studied architecture. His application of architecture to the real world is truly brilliant. Abloh said, "[s]tudying architecture, to some people, is, like, "Oh, you build buildings." But to me, it's a way of thinking. It's a way of problem-solving with a rationale. And you can apply that rationale to building a building but also to scrambling eggs." This is an incredibly abstract way to perceive an architecture program. It's fair to think that some architects, or people for that matter, stay in the realm of buildings when considering architecture, and may not even be capable of seeing the relationship between architecture and scrambled eggs. But, for Abloh, that was his fundamental assessment of the program all in all. As college students, we should be thinking in a similar manner. It's the oldest tale in the book, I'm aware, but we have to think in a way that brings our education out of the classroom so that we can receive maximum benefits of our schooling. Unconventional and fresh is what I have to say to Abloh's architecture-scrambled egg theory.
Abloh's "three percent" plan is something else should be adopted into our habits. Abloh offers the idea that a whole new design could be created by editing an already created design by just three percent. This plan is how the quotation marks around words on his Off-White apparel was born, perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the brand. We may not have a line of apparel to alter by three percent, but we all definitely have qualities and tendencies that, if we changed for the better (just by three percent), we would be doing better in different facets of our lives.
Abloh also encourages people to be less contrived and authentic in the way they behave and especially in the way they consume fashion. The following is one of my favorite anecdotes that I've learned about Virgil Abloh. I don't know if it's because of the true NYC experiences that I've lived, for example, a childhood of admiring the endless Chinatown designer knockoffs that poured into the streets, but he wrote for a blog called The Brilliance in reference to Gucci T-shirts, "[t]he sad thing is, the $10 fakes are better, graphics wise, design proportion, and actually cotton t-shirt wise too. The expensive ones are too refined, there's nothin' hood about them." Granted, this was written before he reached all the success that he has now and became an icon in the high fashion world. But, if he's remained true to his original fashion interpretations, which is likely considering his creative direction, we can conclude (at least I hope) that he still appreciates the style-with-ease sense about something like a knockoff Gucci T.
The final thing we can learn from Virgil Abloh, no matter who we are or where we come from, is that he says constantly putting people in competition with each other is a "pitfall of human nature." There is no hidden meaning to this, no adjustment to the statement we have to do as non-designers to understand this. It just merely needs to be understood and acted on for the world to be a better place.