Virgil Abloh’s legacy is far-reaching in popular culture today, he is and was the modern-day renaissance man. Part designer, part DJ, part creative director, the wunderkind single-handedly helmed the meteoric rise of his label Off White and transformed Louis Vuitton into the streetwear juggernaut we know and love, all the while playing gigs at techno festivals, releasing EP’s with Boyz Noise and conjuring furniture collaborations with Ikea. Today we look back at what made the creative so prolific, and how his inimitable mark on fashion will forever live on.
Whether his highly-anticipated collection for Ikea or his culturally ubiquitous presence at Louis Vuitton, the designer’s penchant for (re)-interpretation and remixing the codes of designers and brand’s past, made him in many ways the neo-dadaist of the 21st century.
Using the tension between assemblage and formalism the Dadaists, (most famously Marcel Duchamp) provoked the art world and the masses at large in presenting banal objects, slightly re-interpreted and plucked from their utilitarian contexts, as art objects in and of themselves. Duchamp famously flipped a urinal on its side dubbing it “fountain”, and the rest, as they say, was history. The artist would go on to create an oeuvre of these “readymades” including a postcard reproduction of Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa vandalized with a moustache and goatee, titled L.H.O.O.Q.
Abloh, not surprisingly, cited Duchamp as an inspiration for much of his artistic and intellectual ideology. He described his process as being rooted in certain “cheat codes” including what he calls the “three-per-cent approach”—the idea that one might create a new design by changing an original by a mere three percent. “Streetwear in my mind is linked to Duchamp,” he told the New Yorker in early 2019. “It’s this idea of the readymade. I’m talking Lower East Side, New York. It’s like hip-hop. It’s sampling. I take James Brown, I chop it up, I make a new song. …. It’s streetwear 10.0—the logic that you can reference an object or reference a brand or reference something. It’s Warhol—Marilyn Monroe or Campbell’s soup cans.”
The referentiality comes full circle in Virgil Abloh’s legacy, an output in the last few years oof collaborations, and collections that defined fashion and popular culture for all of us. His Ikea collaboration where the designer reinterprets the Mona Lisa as a lightbox, blown up to twice its original size and outfitted out with a USB port immediately recalled Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. Abloh’s reinterpretation of one of Duchamp’s most famous works was in many ways the contemporary late-capitalist iteration of the readymade, plucked from the art world and re-contextualized as a commodity.
Whether it was furniture, music, or fashion, however, just when the cultural ethos had finally caught up to the visionary, he knew exactly when to pivot. At the height of the inundation of streetwear on the runways (the likes of which he ushered in), Abloh pared back his output for Louis Vuitton, and designers followed suit (quite literally). “I want to push the industry in a different direction – not just sit in a comfortable spot and be like, ‘Oh, commercially it’s viable to just sell sneakers and jeans’. It’s fashion: everything goes in a cycle, things will die, things will come back. I want to propose tailoring.”
Be it his penchant for reinterpretation or his uncanny ability to exist in a space ahead of the pop-cultural ethos, Abloh was the renaissance-man of our time and the artist ushered in for many, the post-digital saturation of kitsch, irony, and referentiality that has come to punctuate our time.
Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.
He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.