MARCH­ING TO HIS OWN BEAT

With his cool cre­den­tials and di­verse cre­ative skills, Off-White de­signer Vir­gil Abloh was never go­ing to lead a con­ven­tional life.

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Iwould die if I had a nine-to-five,” says Vir­gil Abloh. And he doesn’t: the 36-year-old lives “on an air­plane” as a de­signer, DJ, ar­chi­tect, en­gi­neer, fa­ther, and col­lab­o­ra­tor c of Kanye West. Abloh, whose M.O. is that you don’t have to choose one thing in life, may for that rea­son be the quin­tes­sen­tial mod­ern fash­ion de­signer. His three-year-old la­bel Off-White is a street wearcou­ture mash-up that has drawn crit­i­cal rave sand be­come a main­stay of the Kar­dashian-Jenner crew. Abloh him­self is part of the group cur­rently lead­ing the fash­ion van­guard, along­side Euro­pean stand­outs like Demna Gvasalia of Ba­len­ci­aga and Vete­ments, and Alessandro Michele of Gucci. “Our up­bring­ing was a lit­tle avant-garde, so the re­sult is avant-garde,” Abloh says of him­self and his peers. “You have to live a life­style to be able to de­sign for that.”

His his­tory is in a lot of ways very Amer­i­can. Abloh was born in Rock­ford, Illi­nois, the son of im­mi­grants from Ghana. “I eas­ily could have been born in a third world coun­try, jump­ing over ex­posed gut­ters,” he says, “and I would still be the ex­act same per­son. I would just be in a space where I wouldn’t be able to have an im­pact.” In­stead, Abloh grew up a sub­ur­ban kid of the 90s, skate­board­ing and DJ-ing at high school dances. When his fa­ther said he should be an en­gi­neer, Abloh en­rolled in col­lege for that, but even­tu­ally segued into ar­chi­tec­ture, which led him to dis­cover first the Dutch ar­chi­tect Rem Kool­haas, then Prada (Kool­haas de­signed some of the brand’s stores), and some­where along the way fel­low Chicagoan Kanye West. (Don’t all roads lead to West?) They be­gan col­lab­o­rat­ing 13 years ago, with Abloh con­sult­ing on ev­ery­thing from al­bum cov­ers to West’s Yeezy line. “I started as an in­tern – I’m still his as­sis­tant,” he jokes. “He’s like a nu­clear-level artist, mak­ing liv­ing pieces of art that hap­pen to be pop-cul­ture fix­tures. He’s taught me a lot about how to be a cre­ative in this mod­ern land­scape.”

That may ex­plain the drive be­hind Off-White. The la­bel, based in Mi­lan, shows at Paris fash­ion week – and the rar­ity of a male African-Amer­i­can de­signer show­ing in Paris and be­ing cel­e­brated for it ( West him­self tried sev­eral years ago, to mixed re­views) isn’t lost on Abloh. “I feel like it’s my job to go and break down bar­ri­ers,” he says. His clothes don’t sub­scribe to norms, ei­ther: the au­tumn/win­ter ’16/’17 col­lec­tion fea­tured a one-shoul­der tuxedo jacket paired with sweats. For re­sort ’16, Abloh played with over­sized deconstructed denim and graphic shirt­ing.

So how does the de­signer, who some­how com­bines 2am DJ gigs and global com­mit­ments with a wife, Shan­non, and two young kids, de­scribe his 100-miles-per-hour life? The way many of us would love to: “I’m ba­si­cally the same 17-year-old ver­sion of my­self as an adult,” he says. “I’ve just trans­lated my in­ter­ests into a for­mi­da­ble job.”

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