Work in Progress: Notes on Creativity, Collaboration and The In-Between

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His friends called him V. He used to feel intimidated by the fashion world but he got over it. He designed his first Louis Vuitton collection in three hours. He cared more about pageantry than clothes. He wasn’t precious about his ideas. He sometimes made work and added the meaning later. He contradicted himself all the time but he saw no problem with that. Fashion for him was one big art project, and also kind of a joke. He believed in God. He believed in logos. He thought insisting on novelty in fashion was farcical; a critique meant to keep people like him out. Some nights when he couldn’t sleep he wondered how people would remember him once he was gone.

Virgil Abloh, who died unexpectedly in 2021 at age 41, defied categorization. Born in Rockford, Illinois to Ghanaian immigrants, he learned to sew as child, studied civil engineering in college and then architecture in graduate school. He entered the world of fashion sideways, without formal training, upsetting the status quo first with the stratospheric success of Off-White and then with his appointment as Artistic Director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. He pierced the divisions between pop culture and couture, fashion, music, and design, and was as influenced by Marcel Duchamp and Mies van der Rohe, Albert Murray, Rammellzee, Drake, DJ Benji B, Kylie Jenner, and Bella Hadid, as by the storied histories of high fashion houses. He was fascinated by the commodification of culture and the dialectic between appropriation and reappropriation, between ‘high’ and ‘low’. He admired the ready-made and the imitative for the way in which they force you to think carefully about the context in which they were created. He felt originality was a sham, and saw clearly the way Fashion, with a capital F, depends on the policing of who is allowed the mantle of ‘genius’. The establishment bridled at his approach even as they celebrated his work. He, in turn, understood that people wanted him to be a symbol, to fit an idea of the Black Designer, but he refused any kind of easy definition.

Here, in Work in Progress, is a blueprint for a way to live, a conversation between friends, a challenge to any idea of black and white thinking. A portrait of an iconoclast, WORK IN PROGRESS takes us inside the mind of one of the most visionary and transformational designers of our time.

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