In December 2012, Virgil Abloh released the now-iconic campaign for Pyrex Vision. It was before he would launch his metaphorical follow-up and massively popular label Off-White. It was before he made history with his appointment as creative director of Louis Vuitton Men’s in 2018. For many people, it was their introduction to Abloh and his vision. The video was soundtracked by a Joy Division song, featured Jim Joe spray-painting messages on a white wall, and various members of the then-upcoming ASAP Mob modeling the clothing. The clothes themselves were an amalgamation of cultural references like Renaissance paintings, Michael Jordan’s jersey number, and nods to drug raps by artists like Pusha T. Tremaine Emory, creator and close personal friend of Abloh, considered the arrival of Pyrex Vision as Abloh’s way to level the playing field.
“Caravaggio is no better than fucking DJ Premier. They’re both artists. One’s not on a higher level. And DJ Premier is no better than Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan, Pusha T, and Caravaggio are all valid, incredible artists. We’ll put them all together on a hoodie. It changed everything,” Emory tells Complex. “He unified the disciplines. He unified the separation created by the 1% that wants to tell you that a Picasso is worth more than a Frank Ocean album because there’s only one Picasso and everyone can buy a Frank Ocean album. It’s not worth more. These are just made up validation indexes. Frank Ocean’s Blonde album is just as valid as a Picasso and vice versa. That’s what Pyrex Vision is.”
Fast forward almost 10 years and Emory is introducing his followers to Pyrex Vision in a new way with Pyrex Tears. The capsule is a collaboration with Abloh’s creative studio Alaska Alaska that was approved by his wife Shannon, and fuses the signature motifs of Pyrex Vision with Emory’s Denim Tears. Unfortunately, Abloh is no longer with us. He tragically died in November 2021 of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer. This capsule collection is Emory’s way to represent his return.
“That’s why Christ is Black, to represent Virgil and his return,” says Emory in reference to the painting by Cecco del Caravaggio, one of Caravaggio’s closest followers, depicting the resurrection of Christ that is plastered on the front of the Pyrex Tears hoodie. “But not his return in the flesh, his return through the memory of his friends and family and his art. That’s Virgil’s afterlife.”
The “23” that was used on OG Pyrex Vision pieces as a nod to Jordan has been replaced with “45,” a subtle nod to the jersey number that Jordan wore the first time he came back to the Chicago Bulls following his first retirement. Emory stayed true to the essence of Abloh’s original project by printing on Champion blanks. Unfortunately, they could only source 12 vintage Ralph Lauren Rugbys, the same canvas infamously used by Abloh in 2012, so they will not be releasing as part of the collection.
“If we could have found 1,000, if we could have found 500 Rugby flannels, that’s how many we would’ve made,” says Emory. “But it’s also an art project, doing it exactly the same way with my interventions in the collaboration. That’s what makes it a collaboration.”
Rugby flannels aside, the Pyrex Tears collection will be released on Tuesday, Sept. 6. T-shirts ($150), hoodies ($350), and mesh shorts ($100) will each be available via the Denim Tears website, canary—yellow.com, and the “Figures of Speech” gift shop at the Brooklyn Museum.
Along with the new collab, Emory also discussed Abloh’s lasting legacy. It extends far beyond what he created with brands like Louis Vuitton or Nike.
“If anyone thinks the continuation of Virgil’s legacy is at Louis Vuitton, you’re sorely wrong,” says Emory. “The continuation of his legacy is his wife, his mom, his sister, his dad, his kids, his friends, and his art. Louis Vuitton was just a brand that was very lucky to have him. Nike is just a brand that was very lucky to have him. So, there is no successor. Congratulations to whoever comes after Virgil, but it’s really not my concern.”
Ahead of the Pyrex Tears drop, we spoke with Emory about what went into creating this tribute to his late friend, how Pyrex Vision has inspired him creatively, Abloh’s lasting impact, and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You teased some of the pieces on Instagram that are gonna be coming out. What else can we expect from the Pyrex Tears drop?
Three pieces: a T-shirt, shorts, and a hoodie. The pieces are made exactly as the old ones were with Denim Tears interventions added with the Pyrex motifs on Champion blanks. We produced 12 flannels using vintage Rugby flannels. So, using the same exact flannels he originally did them on. That’s the only amount we could source. I’m not sure what we’re gonna do with those. Those won’t be on sale.
Damn. I was looking forward to the rugby.
Yeah. If we could have found 1,000, if we could have found 500 Rugby flannels, that’s how many we would’ve made. But it’s also an art project, doing it exactly the same way with my interventions in the collaboration. That’s what makes it a collaboration. The intervention of the Black Jesus, the intervention of the “Tears,” the intervention of the 45. That’s what makes it a collab, the intervention of this iconography, words, numbers, and imagery. That’s the intervention that makes it something progressively new. It’s not even so much an homage. It’s more about the return of Virgil, his return to us is his ideas and his family. It’s who he was. So that’s his afterlife, his ideas, his art, his family. So, that’s what this collaboration is about. My brother.
With a lot of his pieces with Pyrex and then Off-White, he became known for the art references and graphics he would use. Can you talk about the significance of the painting that you decided to use for this collection?
This painting I decided to use for this piece is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago. So, I imagine in my fantastical mind that Virgil walked through that place and saw this painting. It is by someone whose last name is also Caravaggio because he’s a follower of Caravaggio, maybe an apostle or disciple in some way. So, he took on his last name and painted in the same motif. The original Pyrex used the Entombment of Christ. Christ is dead. This one is the resurrection of Christ a few days later. That’s why the intervention is the resurrection of Virgil. That’s why Christ is Black, to represent Virgil and his return. But not his return in the flesh, his return through the memory of his friends and family and his art. That’s Virgil’s afterlife.
That’s why there’s the 45, ‘cause Michael Jordan said he came back with the 45 because his father wasn’t alive, so he didn’t wanna play with the 23 because his father couldn’t see him. So, that’s another intervention, the 23 to the 45. The whole Pyrex thing. Pyrex, Michael Jordan. Pyrex, Pusha T drug raps. You either got a wicked jump shot or you selling crack rock. And that’s why the Caravaggio is on the front. You don’t have to sell crack and you don’t have to be an athlete. You can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be an architect, you can become a fashion designer, you can do anything. And that’s the intervention of the original Pyrex, Caravaggio crashing with Pusha T drug raps, Michael Jordan, Chicago, and the hood, and mashing that all together to create something new.
Why was it important for you to use Pyrex as the vehicle for this project?
In popular culture, this is the first thing Virgil did on his own, no Kanye, no Been Trill. I don’t even think people get it to this day. What do you get after you cook up coke in Pyrex? You get off white crack rock. He did Pyrex. Then, cease and desist. But it wasn’t even about the cease and desist. Pyrex was an art project. You cooked up in the Pyrex and got Off-White. So, even that shit was so layered, this high fashion brand named off of drugs as a metaphor. But also, the in-between of white and black, the gray scale, it’s that too.
Pyrex, no one had ever really seen anything like that before. It was definitely, for lack of a better word, streetwear. But not just streetwear. It’s a thing that combined what’s called streetwear and crashed it with a bunch of other things. What is streetwear? Streetwear doesn’t even exist. There’s couture, ready to wear, and athletic wear. So, I don’t personally really use the word streetwear because of the connotations of a lot of people that use it. But I understand that people do feel good about the word streetwear. It’s a tricky word. It’s like the word urban.
Was Pyrex Tears something that you and Virgil were working on or discussing before he passed?
This was a conversation between me and Alaska Alaska, and was approved by Shannon Abloh.
The 10th anniversary of Pyrex is approaching. What is the significance or legacy of Pyrex Vision to you?
DIY, man. Are you gonna let them tell you you’re an artist, or are you gonna choose to be an artist? Are you gonna wait for them to tell you you’re a designer, or are you gonna know when you’ve done your 10,000 hours and you’re ready to go into the world and present your ideas? Pyrex was just him going for it. The video, the presentation, Jim Joe spray painting on the wall, the Joy Division song, ASAP Mob members to model it, it’s art. He spun an art project into a commercial project, but there was no guarantee that Pyrex would turn into that or that it would mean anything to anyone. So, Pyrex shows the possibilities when you believe in yourself and do things the way you want to do them.
Pyrex is the combination of the streets, and I don’t mean streetwear, [I mean] the hood, rap, and hip-hop, mixed with art and showing that it’s all the same shit. Caravaggio is no better than fucking DJ Premier. They’re both artists. One’s not on a higher level. And DJ Premier is no better than Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan, Pusha T, and Caravaggio are all valid, incredible artists. We’ll put them all together on a hoodie. It changed everything. He unified the disciplines. He unified the separation created by the 1% that wants to tell you that a Picasso is worth more than a Frank Ocean album because there’s only one Picasso and everyone can buy a Frank Ocean album. It’s not worth more. These are just made up validation indexes. Frank Ocean’s Blonde album is just as valid as a Picasso and vice versa. That’s what Pyrex Vision is.
Can you take me back to 2012, 2013 when Pyrex Vision launched? How did that inspire you creatively at the time?
What inspired me was the friendship. I thought Pyrex was amazing. But what was more amazing to me was the type of person Virgil is. And we became friends. So, the friendship bond that me, him, Acyde, Benji B, ASAP Mob, Justin Saunders, Kevin McIntosh, Joe Holder created…I can keep going. There’s so many people that you guys will never know. We all were friends who supported each other and had loads of fun. There’s a whole little tribe that supports each other. V is the glue. That’s what’s inspiring to me, the friendship and the camaraderie more so than the art or brand stuff. That’s still super important, but I know some good artists that I don’t fuck with because I don’t like them, or maybe they don’t like me.
So, that’s the inspiring thing to me, the friendship and the support that he showed me. He saw the greatness in me even when I was working at Marc Jacobs five days a week. Virgil connected me with Paddle, the auction platform, and said, “I see what you post on Instagram, the items that you collect, as an art practice. I want to know if you would be down to do this auction thing with me.” That’s 2013, before Denim Tears, before any hype, before anything. He got me on an email with some white folks and called me an artist. He said, “I want you to take what you do on Instagram and put it on this platform because I see it as viable.” That’s the inspiration.
You said it was hard to source them, but you said that you decided that you wanted to do it the same way he did at the time, and source these vintage Ralph Luaren Rugbys. At the time when he did that, there were some people that dismissed the creation because he was essentially just printing on these flannels. At that time, what did you think of that opinion and those critics?
I’ll tell you. I told this story at Harvard. I did a talk with IDK and Virgil at Harvard a couple months before he died. There’s these guys that started this brand called Nike, and they didn’t have the means to go to China or America and make sneakers from the ground up. So, you know what they did? They bought Onitsuka Tigers, ripped off the patch, and put on a Nike patch. That’s how Nike started. That’s my answer.
What’s the significance of the phrase “sunroof of the Trojan horse” to you?
The Trojan horse is the modus operandi that Virgil and our tribe, myself included, people of color, women, and other subjugated people had to use to infiltrate the white male infrastructure in the Western society that’s been running the world for a couple thousand years. We had to use the Trojan horse to get in. We have these watershed moments of him becoming the creative director of Louis Vuitton, his museum shows, the Nikes, the clothing, the films, all of it. That’s when the sunroof pops open like, “Hey, we here.” We had to sneak in, but we’re here now. And more of us are coming in. That’s what “sunroof of the Trojan horse” means. We letting the fucking top down on this bitch. No more hiding, no more sneaking our friends in. No more any of that. Fully us, fully Black, fully trans, fully gay, fully lesbian, fully whatever you are. Fully you. You’re just as viable as anyone else. We deserve the same opportunities. And we also deserve to be mediocre, be great, the same things that the white male power structure has been for so long.
Don’t forget, Virgil’s the first African American fashion designer in a French house. That’s in 2018. That’s crazy.
Since Virgil’s passing, many people have been talking about who will follow him at LV. If you had the power to choose either a specific person or just the direction that you would wanna see LV go to continue that legacy, what would you do?
If anyone thinks the continuation of Virgil’s legacy is at Louis Vuitton, you’re sorely wrong. The continuation of his legacy is his wife, his mom, his sister, his dad, his kids, his friends, and his art. Louis Vuitton was just a brand that was very lucky to have him. Nike is just a brand that was very lucky to have him. So, there is no successor. Congratulations to whoever comes after Virgil, but it’s really not my concern. Louis V wasn’t the whole thing. It was a step on the chessboard. The sun roof is off. We used Louis. We use these things as leverage to push through. For example, the sun roof off the Trojan horse is me getting a job at Supreme. Me and my job at Supreme doesn’t happen if the watershed moment with Virgil doesn’t happen in 2018. I don’t care how talented or good I am.
There’s things that happened before Virgil that helped him get to his spot, things that Ye did, things that Charlie Casely-Hayford’s father Joe Casely-Hayford did in the ‘80s and ‘90s, what Andre Walker did, what Willi Smith did, what Nina Simone has done. These are all things that led to what Virgil has done. Your mentors aren’t only the people you know. So, what I’m saying is, the end game isn’t LV. That’s not the highest point. It’s a move on the chessboard. And so, it doesn’t matter who comes after; very good for them, but really what matters is the legacy left in his family, his friends, and his art. His true brand is Virgil Abloh, not Off-White, not Louis Vuitton, not Nike. And that’s the part I think people are still missing. That’s why this ain’t an Off-White collab, it ain’t a Louis V collab, it’s Pyrex. Virgil’s thing. Virgil Abloh owned 100 percent of Virgil Abloh.
To clarify, I wasn’t trying to insinuate that his legacy will continue with LV. I was more so asking you what your hope is as far as what LV does to follow up Virgil’s tenure?
I totally understand. We gotta keep it real. LV did that because they had to. What was the other move? We run this shit. That’s why I said his legacy isn’t attached to LV. It was a job. It’s a high profile job. It’s like Phoebe Philo. Is her legacy attached to Celine or her as Phoebe Philo? Yeah, she did great things at Celine, but she’s a great designer. Is Marc Jacobs’ legacy attached to Louis Vuitton? People don’t even talk about that anymore. He’s a great artist and designer. There’s kids that don’t even know that Marc worked at Louis Vuitton and it doesn’t matter. Cause he’s still great. He’s still an amazing person. It’s the same for V.
Any final thoughts?
I’d like to thank Alaska Alaska and Shannon Abloh for allowing me the privilege to do this collaboration with my dearly departed friend. The whole point of the whole collaboration is that Virgil’s afterlife is the life of his family, his friends, his art, and people that loved his art. So, I hope people who really loved V but didn’t know him get to enjoy the product. Cause that’s what it represents.