Virgil Abloh's rise within the fashion world was both rapid and historic.
After becoming the creative director for Kanye West's DONDA agency, the 38-year-old began to pursue clothing design full force and launched his Pyrex Vision brand in 2012 and his Off-White label in the following year. Most would agree that the latter imprint is what catapulted Abloh into the upper echelons of the fashion business, resulting in prestigious accolades, big-name collaborations, and his appointment as the first black artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear.
Though he has become one of the most celebrated creatives of the decade, Abloh admits his early fashion design years were plagued by insecurity.
"At the time I thought you were only good if you’re Margiela or Rei Kawakubo. And I was struggling because that’s not me," he said in a recent interview with Vogue. "I was very well aware that as a fashion designer, I was a square peg in a round hole. It’s like someone who is really messy and tries to clean their place up to throw a dinner party. Everything is in order, but then you go to the bathroom and you’re like, Why is there a cereal box in the bathtub?"
Rather than conform, Abloh made the decision to stay true to himself: "That became when I owned the thing," he said. "With that, I could sleep at night. I just needed to check. I already had my plan anyway. But sometimes you need to rearrange the furniture in your head."
But despite his commitment to authenticity, Abloh has faced ongoing criticism about his design approach. Many have accused him of appropriation and plagiarizing the work of other creatives. Abloh tells Vogue those criticisms are rooted in outdated notions.
"That way of designing—to develop everything from zero—comes from a different time," he explained. "For me, design is about whatever I find is worthy to tell a story about. I don’t believe that culture benefits from the idea that this line on a piece of paper has never been drawn in this exact way ever before. My goal is to highlight things—that’s why I collaborate a lot, that’s why I reference a lot, and that’s what makes my body of work what it is."
You can check out Abloh's full interview here. The designer also touches on his democratic approach to designing, his background in civil engineering, and the spirit of Chicago.