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.”
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.
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.”