The air in Chicago is buzzing this summer surrounding the prolific work of designer Virgil Abloh. “Figures of Speech”, curated by Michael Darling of the Museum of Contemporary Art, is the first solo exhibition for Abloh, who is originally from Rockford, Illinois.
Currently the CEO of fashion brand Off-White and the Men’s Creative Director at Louis Vuitton, Abloh has had success in many of his pursuits. His creativity finds expression not only in fashion, but also furniture design, art, architecture, and music. His streetwear is globally coveted, with limited edition releases and store openings generating crowds who are willing to camp over night for his latest sneaker.
Abloh’s education in Architecture at IIT is visible still in the MCA’s 20-year survey. The process that he refers to as “prototyping”, where ideas are tested and re-worked over many interations is the foundation of any design education. In this way, one idea may lead to many different concepts. For Abloh, design is equally about the rigorous problem solving process as the final product.
The exhibition is carefully curated into 7 different parts. “Early Work” shows Virgil’s earliest forays into streetwear, followed by “Fashion” that showcases Off-White collections from 2014-2019. “Music” displays Abloh’s cover art for Kanye West’s “Yeezy” album as well as Abloh’s own productions as a DJ. “Intermezzo” speaks to his inspirations from architecture and design. “Black Gaze” looks at fashion from a black cultural perspective,. “Design” shows Abloh’s work with furniture design and “The End” exemplifies the power of advertising.
What he finds himself returning to in his work across these many disciplines is the idea of advertising and brand. His observation is that the power of advertising drives culture; “everything from an election, to what you’d have for lunch”. His analysis of advertising transcended the MCA during June at the pop-up Louis Vuitton store that was unmissable with a neon orange facade on West Loop’s Randolph Street. The vibrant brick walls were stamped with the oversized Vuitton Logo and within the gallery-like store, neon orange LV pieces were presented as works of art. The store’s rapid opening and extremely limited stay on Randolph Street certainly proved Abloh’s thesis of the power of brand and advertising as people flocked to the store to soak up the excitement surrounding the upcoming Fall/Winter 2019 collection.
Abloh’s design studies across many media and the analysis of brand and advertising prove to him that society, and therefore art, design, music and fashion are capable of changing the world for the better.