Be­hind the scenes with Off-White’s Vir­gil Abloh.

Vir­gil Abloh has con­quered fash­ion and fur­ni­ture; now he’s got Toronto in his sights.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Liz Gu­ber


can never die. On the day I meet him in Toronto, we ex­change pleas­antries and then he im­me­di­ately seeks out the near­est out­let for a charge. The founder and de­signer of four-year-old el­e­vated-streetwear la­bel Off-White c/o Vir­gil Abloh (yes, that’s the pre­ferred name) is in town for the open­ing of the brand’s Yorkville bou­tique, the first stand- alone lo­ca­tion in North Amer­ica. But pro­duc­tion for h

the new col­lec­tion is un­der way in Mi­lan, and Abloh must stay on top of it—hence the cell­phone. The cord he has is short, so for much of our con­ver­sa­tion, Abloh’s ath­letic frame is slumped in a fold­ing chair so he can stay teth­ered to the de­vice, some­how man­ag­ing to have the same qui­etly im­pos­ing (but far from look-at-me) pres­ence as when he is stand­ing up.

Speak­ing to a jour­nal­ist while re­motely pro­duc­ing a fash­ion line is what some might call multi-task­ing. For Abloh, who is dressed in an Of­fWhite black-and-or­ange-checked coat, slouched-just-so trousers and Nikes with laces pur­pose­fully un­tied, it’s the only way to work. And he’s al­ways work­ing. In ad­di­tion to his own la­bel, Abloh is Kanye West’s long-time creative di­rec­tor, ad­vis­ing West on such mat­ters as tour merch and stage vi­su­als. He has also spent the past year de­sign­ing his own line of fur­ni­ture, guest-lec­tur­ing grad stu­dents at Columbia Univer­sity about be­ing creative for a liv­ing and fly­ing around the world to DJ un­der the name Flat White. As I write this, the In­ter­net is abuzz with the news that he is col­lab­o­rat­ing with IKEA on a line of home goods for mil­len­ni­als.

It’s safe to say that Abloh, who stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture at the Illi­nois In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, is more than a fash­ion de­signer—in just a few years, he has con­jured a com­pelling brand mythol­ogy (in­stantly rec­og­niz­able ty­pog­ra­phy and a cadre of in-crowd col­lab­o­ra­tors) that takes old-school fash­ion houses gen­er­a­tions

to cul­ti­vate. You can’t help but want to be a part of the move­ment. “De­signer brands need to be a re­flec­tion of the time,” says Abloh, whose clothes play on youth cul­ture, streetwear and overt brand­ing, such as a pair of white patent boots em­bla­zoned with the words “For Walk­ing.” (Abloh seems to have a pen­chant for quo­ta­tion marks: The Toronto bou­tique is called “Land,” and I’ve spot­ted a hoodie printed with “Some­thing special.”) But there’s also a sense of artistry in his work. Con­sider the pair of Levi’s jeans that have been metic­u­lously stud­ded with 10,000 Swarovski mi­cro- crys­tals. “I think lux­ury brands lost their hyp­notic ef­fect on the pub­lic by be­ing a one-way street,” he muses. “My genre of de­sign­ing comes from the ’90s— an era of skate­board­ing and hip hop, which are com­mu­nal things.”

A sense of com­mu­nity is fun­da­men­tal to the Off-White code. I ex­pe­ri­ence it first­hand later that evening at Lee on Toronto’s bustling King Street West while din­ing with the in­ter­na­tional Off-White fam­ily. There’s the suave chief of pro­duc­tion from Mi­lan, a model with an Elle Macpher­son re­sem­blance to match her Aus­tralian ac­cent, and the store’s man­ager, Tyler Brand, whose scraped-off black nail pol­ish and sin­gle dan­gling ear­ring sig­nal the kind of stud­ied cool­ness that bor­ders on in­tim­i­dat­ing. While we await Abloh’s ar­rival, Brand tells me that when the staff de­cided to briefly open the doors to the pub­lic, they made close to $60,000 in two hours. Most of the clien­tele were star-struck youth who stood in a line that curved around the block. “It’s huge among 16- year- olds,” he says. “To­day, kids were telling Vir­gil that he’s their in­spi­ra­tion. They look up to him, like a mu­si­cian.”

The shift in en­ergy is pal­pa­ble when Abloh en­ters the pri­vate din­ing room and starts dol­ing out high-fives. “Yes, I’m a high-fiver,” he ad­mits, ad­dress­ing my look of sur­prise when our palms meet. As Abloh min­gles with his in­ner cir­cle, food un­touched, glass of white wine in hand, phone for­ever charg­ing nearby, I get the feel­ing that he never stops the­o­riz­ing. Be­tween laugh­ter and clinks of cut­lery, I hear the oc­ca­sional Abloh-ism, like “Fash­ion will hit a wall in five years and re­fresh it­self.” Th­ese state­ments, more suc­cinct than Kanye’s im­petu­ous stage rants but just as self-as­sured, mean noth­ing and ev­ery­thing at once.

De­spite prof­fer­ing the five-year the­ory, Abloh ad­mits that he doesn’t find the fu­ture “that ex­cit­ing of a con­cept”; in fact, he’s nos­tal­gic for his teenage years. “Take $30 vin­tage sneak­ers,” he says. “They’re more rel­e­vant than some­thing new be­cause they have the power to evoke a mem­ory.”

Af­ter the din­ner is the af­ter­party, which is held in a pitch-black empty art gallery in Park­dale. Abloh is DJing, lit by the glow of the cell­phones from the tight hud­dle around him. He looks as in com­mand as he did earli­er at his store, show­ing off a hoodie made out of flocked se­quins and shar­ing his thoughts about the flu­id­ity be­tween mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine in his de­signs.

I’ve been in Abloh’s or­bit for nearly 12 hours, and it’s time to go back to earth. On the way home, I re­mem­ber that I’ve run out of milk. (Would that be “Milk” in the Of­fWhite uni­verse?) As I walk out of a con­ve­nience store, I cross paths with a young man in an Off-White bomber. A co­in­ci­dence, sure. But maybe this sight­ing proves Abloh’s point: “Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion asks for what’s next. I think we’re see­ing it.” Abloh might just hold the keys to the gates of new lux­ury. All he needs is a Mo­phie. n

Abloh is a fre­quent vis­i­tor to Toronto and calls it one of his favourite cities. He says that open­ing up a store­front here, his first in North Amer­ica, was an “easy de­ci­sion.”

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