FAME // YOUTH HERO SPOTLIGHT - VIRGIL ABLOH
A new Off White collab with Nike has just been announced and will likely be one of the sneaker events of the decade. Why? Virgil Abloh is involved. Abloh isn’t a new name in popular youth culture, but a brilliant example of the magic created when you tap into next gen thinking in the right way. He’s been described as a cult figure and creative polymath. He is the Creative Director of LVMH and CEO of Off-White - one of the hottest fashion brands in the world. Under LVMH, Abloh has created boundary-breaking menswear collaborations with the likes of Louis Vuitton and the NBA.
Vogue reports on the background to Abloh’s inter-disciplinary practise (which he merges with contemporary culture) “...he initially trained as an architect and first rose to renown as Kanye West’s creative consultant, but got his fashion education interning at Fendi before meeting Louis Vuitton’s artistic director, Kim Jones, sleeping on his sofa and “[forcing] him to teach me in his front room in Maida Vale". He founded Off-White in 2013, and its key codes have since become ubiquitous – notably, the ironic quotation marks around everything, strong emphasis on branding, and a heavy dose of post-modernism. But even more remarkable is the power he seems to hold over a young demographic that most powerhouses are struggling to engage.”
What makes his work so resonant and influential with youth? Abloh creates “a youthful folly, a crude sense of pop weirdness”... He merges a more grounded street style with a modern, luxury twist. The Off-White design approach of ‘everything in quotes is a rallying cry for “ironic detachment” - this taps into playful youth attitudes and translates well into the digital realm. Abloh also has a great story to tell, rising to success despite the odds. He is quoted as saying “We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there,” after being asked about becoming the first black man to design his own line at Louis Vuitton, which has been around for 165 years.
But what appears to be really key to Abloh’s success in youth culture is his collective approach to creativity. Working with a ‘squad’ of creatives and celebrities, he’s ensured that his work has relevance beyond his own influence: “Abloh is a prolific collaborator, and an explicit champion of his heroes...when he takes inspiration from an artist or architect, he cites them, or when he gets one of his friends to take photographs of his work, he calls it a collaboration. After all, he says “it feels more modern to specifically cite your influences in fashion; like, you’re saying, ‘this is my squad.’” Abloh has, throughout his career, made it very clear that he has a squad (when he distributed his new trainers to his friends – to Jones, Naomi Campbell, Drake, A$AP Rocky – they went viral on social media: a solid assertion your squad has your back), but that you’re welcome to be a part of it, too.” Vogue. This is not only a good creative or marketing tool, but a spirit that is at the essence of youth creativity today - a collective, inter-disciplinary sensibility.
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TRANSFORMATION // YOUTH READY FOR CHANGE
How are youth feeling right now? Still on a precipice. The world isn’t feeling quite ‘normal’ just yet, but there’s excitement building for what’s on the horizon. A lot of youth in our Love Network are tired but ready for a change:
“Everyone is getting so sick of it. They are over it. It feels like life has been put on pause. During my final year we didn’t get a graduation, there was no final semester together… I’m ready to finish college and move. We’re all just sick of being around the same place.” Maria, 22
The restless anticipation of release is something that many are also cautious about - disrupting habits that have been reset over the past year or more will be easier for some. The world youth are about to enter will be a hybrid one where they take some elements of their Covid experience and merge those with a new world.
PLANET // THE START OF A NEW ERA
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
This week will go down in history - not just in sneaker history, but also in the context of climate. Fossil fuel had a crushing day on Wednesday, May 26th. Three key things happened:
- In a groundbreaking verdict, a dutch court told Shell that it must cut its emissions by half (45% by 2030. It had pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent within a decade, and to net-zero before 2050. But the court’s decision finds that those actions are insufficient, intangible, and too unspecified to meet the global standard set by the Paris Climate Accord, and to meet the companies’ human rights obligations).
- Chevron’s investors demanded emissions cuts
- Exxon shareholders buked the company to elect directors demanding climate action
An Australian court also ruled this week that the government has a duty to protect young people from the climate crisis.
These decisions will have a ripple effect...especially the legal connection of a company’s basic business model to the threat to human rights from climate-change impacts. From a youth perspective it’s not just climate justice activists celebrating - it’s a sign for younger workers that business values at large are shifting rapidly. An article on how young voices are growing stronger in company strategies and values by the Financial Times notes:
“As these younger generations move up through the workforce everywhere, they will inevitably have a growing influence on how companies are run. Forward-thinking leaders, therefore, are paying attention to how young people think, and what they set as goals or aspirations...a strategic focus on sustainability is driven by younger employees, for whom environmental and social purpose is a priority...To retain them, companies must go beyond mission statements and practise what they preach...This is an opportunity….“Use your purpose-driven employees to help solve these things [societal gains/sustainability/biodiversity etc]...””
‘Think Abloh’ is a great cue to remind yourself of the opportunities that exist with collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to developing creative work. Breaking boundaries is not as difficult when you bring new & different perspectives together. This is also a good reminder of the importance and opportunity with diversity and inclusion - plus engagement with the younger or more junior levels in your organisation.
What are the things you love from the pandemic working experience that you’d love to bring into the emerging new normal? Think about what your own hybrid world might look like.
Concern for sustainability and other societal issues is likely to intensify once the Covid threat calms. Alongside this, companies making net zero pledges and not backing them up with action are going to be targets for consumer groups, litigators and regulators. Delivery on ambition is hugely critical. With this, the importance of positive brand action around social and environmental impact has never been so urgent. This shouldn’t be siloed with a CSR or sustainability team as it has impact across all activities. Are there others within your organisation (ie. younger employees) who might have the energy to help with this, but they haven’t been invited yet?