Virgil Abloh, Kanye West’s creative director and the visionary behind three-year-old Milan-based clothing line Off-White, was the only American nominated for the prestigious LVMH Prize for young fashion designers last year. Known for his hand-painted leather jackets and patched and pleated denim, Abloh had his first-ever Paris Fashion Week show in September and is selling products at retailers such as London department store Selfridges and Paris trendsetter Colette.
Fast Company: For Kanye, you work on things like album covers and set designs. Is it an advantage in fashion, having this untraditional background?
Virgil Abloh: No, I just think the marketplace shifted. Luxury fashion means something different today. Now people are not as concerned with getting a Mercedes-Benz or a Rolex to represent success. That generational shift has also changed how fashion is made and sold. I didn’t go to fashion school. I started Off-White by screen-printing T-shirts and giving them to friends. I still don’t really classify myself as a designer. I feel like they know things that I don’t.
And you probably know things that they don’t. Like what to do with social media. How do you shape your brand online?
In a way, Instagram is more important than anything else. How many people can actually consume a piece versus watch a brand unfold [on social media]? I make Instagram my own by documenting my creative process. It’s been the norm to not show anyone the tricks leading up to what you’re releasing, and I felt that was kind of wack. This tool could be used to inspire. If I’m one of the first kids to go from making a T-shirt to doing runway shows in Paris, it would be a huge disservice to culture and to kids not to show them the ropes.
How do you stay connected with that young scene?
I network. In Paris last year, [a designer] friend texted me an address and was like, "Hey, you got to come here and bring some Off-White. It’s important." I get there and he’s sitting six floors up in a window tossing out his clothes [to fans below]. He was like, "There are 60 kids out here in the street—do it for the culture." It was a pretty epic moment and a really fulfilling vibe.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.