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How Off-White's Virgil Abloh Uses Social Media To Teach And Inspire

The designer, who had a meteoric rise from T-shirt maker to the runways of Paris, wants to show others the ropes.

Off-White founder and creative director Virgil Abloh uses Instagram to inspire both consumers and designers.

[Photos: Christian Anwander, Grooming: Janice Kinjo for Exclusive Artists Management using Buckler's Remedy]

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.

A style of his own: Virgil Abloh was the only American nominated for the prestigious LVMH prize for young fashion designers last year.Photos: Christian Anwander, Grooming: Janice Kinjo for Exclusive Artists Management using Buckler's Remedy

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.

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