Virgil Abloh on Nike’s Kaepernick Move and Why ‘Streetwear’ Is a Misunderstood Term

When Virgil Abloh studied analysis of Nike’s recent move to make Colin Kaepernick a face of its “Just Do It” 30th anniversary campaign, the designer had one big takeaway.

“To me, the glimmer of importance was that the brand took a stance. Make a point. Stand for something. Don’t be on whatever side the wind blows,” Abloh, the Off-White founder and Nike collaborator, told the crowd today at the WWD Apparel + Retail CEO Summit.

The designer — who also serves as the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, moonlights as a DJ and collaborates with many brands — has clearly mastered the millennial. And his success stems from his ability to genuinely connect with his audience. “Being in fashion usually comes with a sense of entitlement. I didn’t believe I would be sitting on this stage when I was 17,” he told moderator Miles Socha, the editor-in-chief of WWD. “And now I always think about the 17-year-old who will be sitting in my seat next.”

Virgil Abloh's Off-White x Nike 'Track and Field' Collection
Virgil Abloh’s upcoming Off-White x Nike “Track and Field” collection.
CREDIT: Nike News

Abloh, a self-described workaholic, said that from the time he entered the fashion industry, he set out to evolve it — and that’s still his guiding principle today. “The key word is relevancy. A customer can give you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down in two seconds,” he said.

The designer, who showed ball gowns with sneakers on the Off-White runway during Paris Fashion Week in September, said that while people might think of him as a designer of ‘streetwear,’ the term itself is often misunderstood. “It’s a trap. What ‘streetwear’ means is what people are actually wearing on the street,” said Abloh, this week’s cover star of FN’s Power Issue.

off-white spring 2019 neon trend
A neon and white tulle skirt with a white performance tee at Off-White spring ’19.
CREDIT: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

What should every designer keep top of mind? “That element of surprise,” Abloh said. “If my next collection is predictable, that will be a thumbs-down.”

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