Virgil on the go: A candid chat with Off-White's mastermind in the backseat of a car
What's been your favourite part of the System collaboration?
The best thing about doing the System project was having blank pages to fill up with ideas, and just weaving a narrative in between fashion, architecture, furniture — all with a youth spirit in mind.
What was the goal of the book signing event in London?
There were probably 500 young people there, 99% of whom I would imagine may have never picked up a System magazine before. And that was the metric; that was my goal, and my broader metaphor for life, essentially. That's the whole premise of my Off-White thing: It's joining — figuratively — the tourist and the purist together. So there's the people who know the most and who are super-educated in creative fields, be it art, fashion, architecture, and then there's the outside (which typically is an older group of people), the tourists. The 'tourist' is the average person on the street. And I think the only reason why that many kids turned up to the booksigning is because there's a young generation that wants to be a purist; that just needs someone to say, 'Hey, look at this, here's a book on the shelf that might look like any other magazine but there's real content inside, and if you read it you'll learn something that you can apply to your ambition.'
Those kids don't know who Juergen Teller is. But through this moment, and what we've done together as a collaboration, he might be the first big photographer they've ever known about. It's the same with Rem Koolhaas: Two kids came up to me and were like, 'He's my favourite architect.' But they're also like, 'Yeah, I listen to rap music, too.'
What inspired you to get off the couch as a kid?
I grew up looking on the TV for somebody to show me the ropes; like seeing a rap video with Pharrell in it, like in Tokyo. I was saying to myself, 'Man, I was originally just into the music, but now I'm interested in this random thought of being in Tokyo one day myself.' I was fortunate enough to meet those people, but then I was like, 'What about the other kids that are sitting at home, that don't have that inspiration? People who don't have one figurehead person, where they can just look on that person's Instagram and be like, 'ok'.
Do you see yourself in the kids queuing to meet you?
This thing came from me and my friends playing rap music, drinking alcohol, and everyone just jumping around, or us making a T-shirt. We would have come and stood in a line like that, just for the initial touchdown, and then you might not have seen us again until we had a project. But we knew at one point in our formative creative life we were fans of something, and then took that and applied it to our own ambition. That's how you end up in London randomly, doing a book signing or something like that.
Could the next Virgil Abloh be someone from that queue?
That's the whole point. Now is probably the most fertile time to be ambitious. The internet is a powerful tool: You could literally start a brand with it; with literally three clicks of a thumb you could probably become Damien Hirst's studio assistant. It wasn't like that three years ago. If someone sits and figures out what the next way to evolve the idea of posting images is, to make something interesting, then it could go viral. And you can be working at your dream institution, so I believe that.
The fact that those kids turned up off a couple of posts on Instagram, says it all. If you can just focus that in the right way, with some new ideas...
This interview was conducted by System magazine in partnership with Buro 24/7.