Virgil Visits (Theoretically)
In May fashion designer Virgil Abloh spoke to students about his career trajectory and approach to design.
Best known for his Milan-based fashion label Off-White and as Kanye West’s longtime creative director, Virgil Abloh visited RISD earlier this week (May 2–3), packing the Auditorium with students eager to hear him speak about his trajectory and approach to design.
His brief talk quickly morphed into a conversation with President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID in which the two talked about the importance of transcending boundaries, building credibility, maintaining integrity and moving fluidly across time, space and medium as a designer.
“You already beat me,” Abloh told students. “You got accepted to RISD and I didn’t. But no hard feelings.”
The affable designer—who grew up middle class, the son of Ghanaian immigrants living outside of Chicago—went on to talk about the “ready made principle of art” and the importance of “leaving designs undone”—to allow users to bring their own ideas to the table, too. He spoke of his brand Off-White as “a thought process. It’s a playground so the world can understand what I’m thinking.”
During his talk Abloh also noted that college offers a great “safe haven to learn” and that given a growing global interest in design, RISD students should feel good about their prospects after graduation. “You can catch a check from about 17 different industries,” he said. “So you guys are about to be rich—if you work hard.”
Seeing his visit to RISD as a major research opportunity, Abloh was eager to fill every possible moment interacting with students, hungry to learn what’s on their mind. “I learn more through feedback” and collaboration, he said.
In holding up a hoodie he had bought at the RISD Store (top image) and quickly reconfigured with the help of sophomores hanging out in the Apparel Design studio, Abloh encouraged everyone in the audience to be open to both collaboration and failure. “The only failure is not to try [new things],” he pointed out. “And perfectionism doesn’t advance anything.”
—text by Liisa Silander / photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
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