Virgil Abloh designed more than just clothes
Virgil Abloh has been prolific enough in his too short career that his pushes add to much. A fashion outsider who took the helm of Louis Vuitton, Abloh has been hailed, and rightly so, as the connected man of his time: a hyperactive bridge between the disparate worlds of fashion, commerce, art. , design and architecture.
But Abloh has also practiced his pure design work – such as in furniture, physical mass-produced products, accessories, and just about anything that can be thought of and bought, but not worn – in a fairly traditional way. Armed with a formal architectural background and a seemingly endless library of references, he applied a modern, deconstructionist sensibility to all of his projects, regardless of the medium. Detailed, with an almost academic obsession with the quirks and meanings of high and low goods, he deployed, in addition to his fashion engagements, tons of business objects that, in an understated fashion, all seemed to be connected.
Ultimately, Abloh’s stamp – or quotes – didn’t just cover clothing, but pretty much anything a person could buy or aspire to own. There were Abloh branded matcha slats and Mercedes Benz sports cars, a Braun stereo, limited bottles of Evian and Moet Chandon, Rimowa suitcases – even a brick.
Abloh’s works shared a common thread. All seemed to offer feedback on our exact moment – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not – and most changed the long-standing design traditions he recruited the articles for. His remixes, whether big or small, were both immediate and straightforward. Most of the time, they were superficial. I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense – more than they attacked the area of the thing he was working on. His interventions were based on the appearance of an object, minus its function and meaning. Here is a classic and cool thing; it was something that Abloh felt had to be classic. He reworked the articles lightly or in bulk, often following what he called his “3% rule”: that a tiny, almost invisible change was enough to confer authorship. Pieces important to an abandoned subculture, like 9/11 era skateboarding or streetwear, could be left alone and simply reproduced. Luxury items like luxury cars did not get such respect.
At a fundamental level, Abloh was very interested in form – ideally a few degrees of off-center, but not edgy or particularly difficult. Last year he remade a Benz wagon, turning a hard Jeepish cube into a brutally simple rectangle. It smoothed its edges, lowered it, like a drift car, and made its tires with Pirelli type lettering. His new thing was half Formula 1, half cartoon: Speed runner (the movie), or a big candy. At first glance, the update had nothing in common with its source. But on closer inspection, it was a perfect distortion: a completely smooth version of a very rough car, connected only by their common shape.