The great collaborations in the history of fashion and luxury (episode 3): Virgil Abloh, the co-branding superstar

Luxus Plus Magazine continues its series on the great collaborations in the history of fashion and luxury. Today, the focus is on the fashion darling and idol of the millennia, Virgil Abloh…


No need to be an expert in the luxury or fashion sector to have heard of the multidisciplinary designer Virgil Abloh, creator of the Off White brand in 2013 and Artistic Director of the men’s collections at Louis Vuitton since 2018. Collaborations with this atypically profiled DJ, trained architect and former Kanye West consultant, have multiplied in recent years: brands from every sector are clamoring for him. Deciphering an incredible societal phenomenon with considerable marketing and financial stakes.


First of all, why does it work? This king of luxury streetwear is a fan of social networks: with 5.5 million subscribers on Instagram and 10.7 million for his Off-White label, it’s no surprise that in just a few years he has established himself as one of the coolest designers among a public of hyper-connected millennials. It is therefore logical that brands looking for an audience on this much sought-after target would want to associate their image with his.


A collaboration with Virgil Abloh is the guarantee of a media buzz with substantial repercussions on an international scale. Each new project co-branded with Virgil Abloh generates a flood of press articles and creates an incredible buzz among the creator’s community of aficionados. Ideal for a brand that wants to rejuvenate its image and attract to itself, not to say recover, the fans of one of the most bankable designers of our time.


Virgil Abloh is also a strong symbol of society and identity: this son of Ghanaian immigrants born in Illinois, who will celebrate his 40th birthday at the end of September, has landed one of the most envied positions in fashion for the flagship brand of the LVMH group. This is a remarkable achievement in a sector that is considered rather elitist, in which few people from immigrant backgrounds are raised to such a prestigious position.


The brands are not mistaken: Virgil Abloh ticks all the boxes. He is a strong generational and community model, in addition to being an outstanding designer who has been able to combine the codes of luxury with those of streetwear from the very beginning of his Off-White brand. But he is also a complete artist, as evidenced by the exhibitions and solo shows dedicated to him.


Starting with the major retrospective of his career entitled Figures of Speech at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2019: the exhibition attracted twice the average number of visitors usually expected by the museum during the summer period. The event became the third most-visited exhibition at the MCA Chicago, along with those of Takashi Murakami and David Bowie, whose retrospectives each drew nearly 200,000 curious visitors.


Virgil Abloh’s first exhibition at the © Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago


The exhibition gave rise to a magnificent 496-page book published by Prestel containing more than 1,800 photos covering the entire career of the designer, from his collaborations to his artistic projects, with special emphasis on his different facets: the beginnings of Off-White, his creative union with Ikea, his first steps at Louis Vuitton, etc.


Virgil Abloh : “Figures of Speech” © Virgil Abloh


More recently, last January, the artist inaugurated an exhibition entitled Efflorescence at the Kreo Gallery in Paris, which focused on a material, concrete, and the different ways in which man and the environment modify it; a clear nod to his training in architecture and civil engineering.


Virgil Abloh’s first exhibition at the © Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago


But Virgil Abloh is no novice on the European art scene. The Gagosian megagallery had already devoted a joint exhibition to him in 2018 in London with Takashi Murakami, which combined the streetwear codes of Off-White with the biting irony of the contemporary Japanese artist.


View of the exhibition Murakami & Abloh – “Technicolor 2” at Galerie Gagosian Paris © Virgil Abloh and © Takashi Murakami


But let’s come back to the designer’s collaborations, of which there have been twenty or so in recent years.


The most restrained in the collective imagination because it is incongruous at first glance, while very legitimate when we know the academic skills of Virgil Abloh, but especially because it is focused on the general public, is that of November 2019 with Ikea. The very limited capsule, entitled MARKERAD, was sold like hotcakes at the opening of the bakery to the “happy few” who were lucky enough to be able to get it despite the almost drastic conditions of acquisition (limitation of the quantities that could be bought, queuing on the spot from 6am, etc.).


Virgil Abloh’s first exhibition at the © Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago


Or the numerous collaborations with the Nike brand, closer to the designer’s streetwear territory. The Air Max, the Air Jordan, the Blazer, the VaporMax… A total of 10 of Nike’s emblematic models were revisited in 2017 by Virgil Abloh for The Ten project. A series of sneakers inspired by Michael Jordan, whose designer is a big fan, and by the 1990s, and articulated around two themes – Revealing and Ghosting – merging Virgil Abloh’s avant-garde approach and his in-depth knowledge of design.


Nike – Vapormax x Virgil Abloh – Off-White© Sneakernews


In June 2016, it is with Moncler that Virgil Abloh signs a collection named Moncler O, inspired by the dressing room of the Scandinavian fishermen of the Great North.


Spring-Summer 2017 Collection by © Virgil Abloh x Moncler


The Off-White c/o Jimmy Choo collaboration began in February 2018. Virgil Abloh pays homage to Lady Diana, unveiling a pair of shoes inspired by the 1990s, embellished with modern-day design details. The models are adorned with plastic, tulle, floral boxes and stones, for a result that remains faithful to the DNA of both houses.


2018 Collection © Jimmy Choo x Off-White


In 2018, the prolific designer partnered with the Champagne house Moët et Chandon to create the Moët Imperial Rosé Nectar bottle with an all-white label and Virgil Abloh’s signature “DO NOT DROP” engraved on the side.


© Virgil Abloh x Moët & Chandon


Also in 2018, Virgil Abloh signs for Rimowa a See Through luggage made of transparent polycarbonate with black handles, so the design of the container is determined by its contents.


Virgil Abloh x Rinowa – Transparent suitcase © Milktaiwan


More recently, last February, Evian invited the designer for the second time to customize one of its glass bottles. The new limited edition collection entitled Activate Movement is “eco-friendly“.


© Evian x Virgil Abloh


And what next then? Mercedes Benz has hired the creative services of Virgil Abloh to sublimate the G-Class off-roader, the emblem of the German car manufacturer that blew out its 40 spark plugs last year, through a unique artistic installation. This collaboration allows three parallel worlds to intersect: fashion, art and the automobile. The prototype of the, with its minimalist design and refined details, was unveiled at the beginning of September. A scale model of this car is currently being auctioned off by the Sotheby’s auction house. All the funds raised will be donated to a support program for artistic initiatives.


Geländewagen © Mercedes x Virgil Abloh


One may wonder about the limits of this hyperactive jack-of-all-trades. He hardly knows any limits of competence. Virgil Abloh is as comfortable with fashion, architecture, music as he is with cars, he is undeniably a master of design in its broadest sense. He handles fabric, leather, paper, concrete, plastic and glass with skill. No material, no artistic technique seems to take him out of his comfort zone.


Physical limits, on the other hand, seem to impose themselves. The designer announced in September 2019 that he would have to take a 3-month medical break. The news scared the canvas, worried that this break might be the premises of a longer shutdown of the hen with golden eggs. It was nothing of it, Virgil Abloh reappeared on the scene, like a creative god ex-machina. His omnipresence is disconcerting, and the emulation, even idolatry, that he generates on both sides is not unlike that which great fashion icons like Yves St Laurent aroused in their time. So let’s bet on many new collaborations in the years to come. Will they all go down in the annals, only history will tell us.





Featured photo : Virgil Abloh


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