Categories
business Editor's pick

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.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

Categories
business Campaigns Editor's pick

ComplexCon: Tommy Hilfiger on aligning with the cultural conversation since the 1990s

Tommy Hlifiger and Gigi Hadid
Tommy Hilfiger and Gigi Hadid

Tommy Hilfiger has always had culture and music at the forefront of how it communicates with consumers, said its namesake designer at ComplexCon this weekend.

The designer was headlining a conversation at the consumer-facing event held in Long Beach, California, alongside Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and 90s rapper Grand Puba. He used the opportunity to explain that incorporating artists and celebrities who are at the peak of the cultural conversation is core to the brand’s strategy, as seen by the highly popular collaboration with model Gigi Hadid, as well as racing driver Hamilton and Gen Z actress Zendaya (upcoming).

“Doing collabs is really part of the excitement I look forward to every day,” Hilfiger noted. But he believes that in order for them to remain authentic, the brand should only guide and execute their artist’s ideas. This is something he has always focused on.

Aaliyah for Tommy Hlfiger
Aaliyah for Tommy Hlfiger

Although the American brand is soon to be celebrating its 35th anniversary, it was the mid 90s and its popularity among hip hop artists that truly propelled it onto the world stage, Hilfiger explained. Pushing a contemporary aesthetic with an urban New York style of big logos and baggy clothes made the brand stand out among other American names that were expanding at the same time.

Grand Puba first referenced the then mid-sized brand in a 1992 single with Mary J Blige, titled “What’s the 411”. This soon caught Hilfiger’s attention, who started dressing more artists and eventually included singer Aaliyah in a 1995 campaign. From then, the brand featured hip hop and R&B performances on its runways, which Hilfiger cites as the beginning of its entertainment-based fashion shows.

The most recent iteration of this approach lies in the brand’s see-now-buy-now strategy, which has seen elaborate fashion shows taking place for the last several seasons in different locations – from Los Angeles to London, Milan and Shanghai, with the aforementioned current celebrities fronting each occasion.

“We believe consumers want immediate gratification and great experiences,” Hilfiger explained. “My idea is to disrupt and continue to break the rules.”

Earlier this year, Tommy Hilfiger’s chief brand officer, Avery Baker, joined us on the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent, to talk about how risk, authenticity and understanding your consumer are the keys to innovation.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.