virgil-abloh-designed-way-more-than-just-clothing
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Virgil Abloh was prolific enough in his too-short career that his side hustles added up to a lot. A fashion outsider who rose to helm Louis Vuitton, Abloh has been eulogized, rightly, as the connected man of his era: a hyperactive bridge between the disparate worlds of fashion, commerce, art, design and architecture.

But Abloh also practiced his pure design work—as in furniture, mass-produced physical products, accessories and just about everything that can be thought up and bought, but not worn—in a fairly traditional way. Armed with formal training in architecture and a seemingly endless library of references, he applied a modern, deconstructionist sensibility to all his projects, regardless of medium. Detailed, with an almost academic obsession over the quirks and meanings of goods high and low, he rolled out, on top of his fashion commitments, tons of commercial objects that, in a low-key way, all seemed to be connected.

Eventually, Abloh’s stamp—or quotation marks—covered not just clothing, but just about everything a person could buy, or aspire to own. There were Abloh-branded matcha lattes and Mercedes Benz sports wagons, Braun stereo, limited bottles of Evian and Moet Chandon, Rimowa suitcases—even a brick.

Abloh’s take on an Evian bottle.

Donell Woodson

Abloh’s works shared a common thread. All seemed to offer comment on our exact point in time—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not—and most tweaked the longstanding design traditions he recruited the items for. His remixes, whether for big or small items, felt both immediate, and direct. Mostly, they were superficial. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense—more that they attacked the surface of the thing he was working on. His interventions were grounded in how an object looked, less its function and meaning. Here was a classic, cool-looking thing; here was a thing Abloh thought should be classic. He would rework items slightly or wholesale, often following what he called his “3% rule”: that a minimal, almost invisible change was enough to confer authorship. Pieces important to a sloughed-off subculture—like skateboarding, or 9/11-era streetwear—might be left well alone, and simply replicated. Tonier items like luxury cars didn’t get such respect.

At a fundamental level, Abloh was very interested in shapes—ideally a few degrees off-center, but not avant-garde or especially difficult. Last year, he re-did a Benz wagon, updating a harsh Jeepish cube into a brutally simple rectangle. He smoothed off its edges, lowered it, like a drift car, and fonted its tires with Pirelli-type lettering. His new thing was half Formula 1, half cartoon: Speed Racer (the movie), or a big piece of candy. At first glance, the update had nothing in common with its source. But looking closer, it was a perfect distortion: a completely smooth version of a very rough car, connected only by their shared shape.