Few people in fashion worked harder than Virgil Abloh in the 2010s. The man behind the influential streetwear brand, Off-White, and, more recently, the creative head of Louis Vuitton men’s, Abloh spent the decade hustling. He came into the fashion industry seemingly from nowhere, a DJ and Kanye West’s creative right-hand man. Abloh never went to fashion school; instead, he applied a DJ’s sensibility to the business, collaborating with just about everyone and proving that mash-ups are fashion’s best tool for connecting with large, diverse swaths of people.
But then a couple of months ago, Abloh announced that he was taking some time off. The guy who famously took eight flights a week needed a minute to breathe. He still worked, on Vuitton men’s, on Off-White, and on one very viral wedding dress for his friend Hailey Bieber, but mostly he was at home in Chicago, spending time with family. We spoke to Abloh just ahead of the new year to get his insights on why he felt it was important to take that break and why he works so hard in the first place. Here are five sound pieces of life and career advice from the guy who’s inspiring a generation of kids to dream as big as he does.
Don’t focus on the hurdles
“I’ve always had this sort of approach: If you’re infatuated with the hurdles, then you’re only focusing on the hurdles. I started to notice early on how much fashion was changing. There was a mix of people going to the shows; you’d see someone in a Thrasher hoodie and a skirt and sneakers, but on the runway, there weren’t many brands reflecting that new style.
That’s what Off-White’s ethos was and what it is today. It’s a mix of street and high fashion, so my very first fashion show was a women’s show and it was just before streetwear became sort of a buzzword with editors. Instead of being limited by the term streetwear, I decided it would define what I did and I could define streetwear. I was empowered by it and it gave me something to work towards, and it gave me a point of view.”
Forget the negativity and be an eternal optimist
“Of course I see it [negative commentary, criticism] and I recognize it, but it’s sort of similar to believing that there’s a ghost under your bed when you’re a toddler. Like, if you believe it’s there, then it sort of controls your whole existence, but in actuality there’s nothing there under your bed. The rules of the industry are figments of people’s imaginations.”
Embrace the next generation, or the person who is following in your footsteps
“There’s no better feeling than creating or making something new or bringing joy through fashion. What I’m more interested in than anything else is the 17-year-old kid in Kansas that looks like me or grew up like me and didn’t think fashion was ever an industry that he or she could participate in.”
If you have an idea, execute it at full speed
“I always looked at Off-White as my walking, talking resume. I joked that it was my resume with a business plan. Otherwise, I would have been a designer that was talking about what I wanted to do. I’m very much a type-A, so if I have an idea I execute on it, which is sort of the opposite of my generation, I think. I feel like I am of a generation that can have a lot of ideas but they don’t always implement them.”
But know when to take a few steps back so you can commit to longevity
“To do what I wanted to do took me working at that exact pace for 10 years straight. But I’m not a robot and I chose to take a break because I’m now interested in the sort of 3.0 of what my design signatures are. I think it’s important to recognize that my inspirations are different now than what they were when I was working towards this point. I’m not interested in sort of being the name of the moment just because I am working on a bunch of things at once like I was previously doing. I mean, I was literally on a flight every single day.
I’m interested in aging and making decisions at a slower pace now, without urgency. I think I had to do what I did in the beginning with a sense of urgency because if I would have taken a year or two off during that LVMH Prize phase I would have missed my window, at least that’s what I felt like. You’ve seen young designers who have done a few things and then they take time off and come back and the landscape is different.”