ComplexCon: Virgil Abloh on community and taste

Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh

“I believe that collectively we’re all the next generation of designers”, said Virgil Abloh at this year’s ComplexCon festival, which took place in Long Beach, California, this past weekend.

Abloh was leading a conversation with a group of young streetwear designers including Bstroy, Ev Bravado and Rhuigi from Rhude, handpicked by the Off White and Louis Vuitton creative director for their strides in making culture a part of the fashion discourse.

The conversation consisted of a mix of insights and industry advice for the many streetwear fanatics and bushy-eyed entrepreneurs in the audience. The biggest topics, however, revolved around how to foster a community and remain authentic to taste:

It takes a village

Early in the conversation Abloh brought to stage long-time collaborator Tremaine Emory, and emphasized the importance of acknowledging the teamwork that makes or breaks a brand. Every creative needs someone who likes an Excel spreadsheet, he said, referencing the relationship between Marc Jacobs and Robert Duffy. “We’re all in one community,” he added, urging for designers to put an end to individuality.

It is often easy for those on the outside looking in to idolize the figure who sits at the top, but streetwear in particular thrives on creatives collaborating and lifting each other up, summarized the panel. Prior to securing the top spot at Louis Vuitton menswear and spearheading his own brand, Abloh worked with Kanye West on many of his creative endeavours, from fashion to an award-winning album with Jay Z.

There also seems to be little emphasis on where the designer came from, Abloh said. “It has become ‘cool’ to pretend like you don’t have parents. It’s become part of the culture to pretend you’re brand new.”

A matter of taste

The designers on the panel hailed from Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, and spoke about how they balance what fashion expects of them, and what truly inspires them.

“On one hand [taste level] is great, but something from our community growing up that we thought wasn’t the highest taste is equally important,” said Abloh. Emory compared it to Picasso being inspired by African art but the latter not receiving the same esteem. “As young people we have to discard the old ways and see the beauty in everything and push it forward,” he explained.

Elevating every day objects or brands is key to this new generation of brands and designers, who appropriate and remix aesthetics that were once considered mundane or uncool. It is the irony itself that makes it all so appealing, as seen by the overnight success of Vetements and its collaborations with the likes of DHL and Eastpack. For Abloh, his Off White label has become known for surfacing brands that were not previously linked to pop culture, such as Ikea and Rimowa.

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