Virgil Painted Culture Off White. The True Story Of How The Legend Changed My Life & Didn't Know It.

Virgil Painted Culture Off White. The True Story Of How The Legend Changed My Life & Didn't Know It.

 

In 2017, I was in West Hollywood, just another transplant with mental disorders in a city of transplants with mental disorders, fresh off sleeping on studio couches & floors in NYC when the offer to become the "voice" for new culture-driven, narrative streetwear curation hub Wanderset (RIP) was made. If ever a role was perfectly suited for a human, this was it. I bet I'd get sacked in 20 minutes from basically anything Arbys to UBS, but this role...pinpoint perfect.

What a fucking era man. The homie Greg Selkoe, who founded KarmaLoop, the zeitgeist ecom giant that did a goddamn billion in sales and more or less singlehandedly created convergence culture gave me no leash in this new role. Greg empowered me to go full send Hunter S. Thompson for the streetwear generation. I spent my days immersed in a cresting wave that none of us really had any idea how massive it could, and would become. 

 

joey a.x greg selkoe virgil abloh sneaker steve streetwear fashion drew mccarver

 

We were a bunch of skaters, backpackers, wall taggers, rappers, producers, dj's and multi-disciplinary polymaths that couldn't behave long enough in any classroom to actually graduate from anywhere, so we just kinda figured we'd try our hand at redesigning the world the way we wanted. Class was always in session I suppose. If I'm honest, it's probably because we didn't fit in anywhere else. At that time, streetwear was really starting to become more than just crude ass skate-inspired graphics on screen printed t-shirts. It was becoming an expressionist art movement. There was a culture shift.

For the first time in at least my life, I was not only invited into rooms I would never even be hired to be a fucking bus boy at. Not only was there an invitation, but it came with the offer for me to actually speak. 

 

My boys from our circle were blowing up in their own ways too. Ali Saint Q  came through to Selkoe's crib to show us some concepts he was working on that would later become the first drop of his now famous designer line Norwood Chapters that everyone from Migos, to Kanye to half the NBA is rocking (and jacking) proudly.

Drew McCarver, my bro for over 15 years from New Haven, who is now the design genius behind global brand James Charles and I were inseparable crafting the vision for what this emerging wave was going to look, feel and vibe like. It was a living & breathing love letter to the subcultures that made us. Without Drew introducing me to Selkoe a year prior, none of this shit even happens. You're not even reading this now. Hard facts.

I got taken under the wing of two cats that belong on pop culture's Mt. Rushmore- Matthew Growney Clinton Sparks- who not only encouraged this obscene drive to "recreate everything and answer only to the inner child"- but had a career of such historic accomplishments and wins that spanned music, art, fashion & tech that what they said meant the world to me. My asshole middle school teachers could never. 

The amount of talent that existed in that circle was obscene and multi-faceted.  Besides for the business suits, none of us "came from money." Money never fucking mattered. Who cares about what you never knew to care about in the first place. Wanna know what mattered?

Vision mattered.

The culture mattered.

We chase the dragon every fucking morning. This was just another one of my addictions. 

I don't answer to anyone or anything but the teenage version of myself, and we all thought like that. 

Around this same time, the giant X on the back of every piece of apparel was starting to be the rule, not the exception in LA. As a massive fan of Kanye and the entire DONDA camp, I obviously was (am) vicariously a massive fan of Virgil's work. I would save up for sometimes months to cop a piece.

Just take my fucking money Virg. 

I loved PYREX, I loved HBA, fuck, I even had a season where I went full Yamamoto in just Been Trill and Y3 and fancied myself some type of dystopian ninja on a pocket full of uppers and a gallon of Jameson. Virgil was behind all of those. As a student of both fine art & debauchery in equal measure- I knew exactly what he was doing. Mans was a wizard, dig me? Recognize when something is special, dig me? 

The pieces I was writing at Wanderset caught the attention of one of  Off_White's PR/Brand Management agents who reached out to me when I was back home in NYC.

This was super shocking because I honestly assumed no one reads shit and I was kinda just writing for myself and like, a few homies in the industry and Matthew Growney to personally critique punctuation.

We linked up in SoHo off Mercer about a month after Off_White opened their first NYC brick and mortar. As one may assume, "lets have a drink and talk culture" turned into 674 pints and (insert midtown mayhem here). But what came of it was glorious.

The Off_White agent tipped me off that there was to be a massive announcement forthcoming with LVMH, and that it would take Off_White and Virgil into the stratosphere. And that he really connected with me because he read all my pieces on Wanderset and felt that I "got the culture" so rawly, so innately and so deeply, that he wanted me to craft a piece that basically would herald Virgil and set the announcement to come up. This piece could NOT be sterile or safe. It had to be type Gonzo-ass-Hunter-S-full-send-for-the-culture. 

I fucking teared up. I recall it vividly. The layman can say it was the substances. Between just us, I'll tell you what it really was.

It was knowing that the creative kids just stormed the highest fort on earth and fucking won. 

I got to tell this story and the same tone that got me kicked out of everything I've ever been enrolled in would be the reason this was a hand selected match for the greatest honor ever given to me. God works in mysterious ways.

I didn't tell anyone how it happened, and to be honest, it wrote itself in about 15 minutes. I didn't edit it because I didn't fucking want to. I wanted it to feel like a conversation, which is exactly what Virgil did with his pieces. Off_White made culture a conversation in wearable form. "For Walking" is the greatest example of that on the Out Of Office low top kicks. 

 

I was honored to have been chosen to write that in 2017. I am heartbroken, yet even more honored now in retrospect. What tragic news. What a horrid loss. It's not a loss for "fashion." I see all these headlines stating "Fashion Industry losing another heavyweight" and such over the past 3 days. That is so, so incredibly limiting. It just shows that they really didn't get Virgil. They didn't fully understand what he was really doing. That's okay too, you know? Everyone digests art in their own way. I'm way off on alot of my assumptions on basic daily life shit. But to box him into "fashion" is almost a wholly cruel and ignorant circumcision of a boundless wingspan. 

You know, I never got to meet Virgil. About 4 months after the piece, I got a random box sent to my parents house. It was one of the racing inspired "Seeing Things" ball caps from Virgil's previous collection, inspired by Italian automobile racing. The font on the hat is a flip of the iconic Pirelli typeface. Once it sank in, I legit cried. 

 

JOEYAX joey a.x virgil abloh offwhite pirelli hat joey a.x creative director

 

I recalled when I met with the PR agent in the city, there was a huge soccer match on at the bar, and it was one of the most heated rivalries on earth- AC Milan vs. Inter Milan. As a huge football culture fan period, I went down a rabbit hole with dude on my love for football kit design and how gorgeous the Italian club aesthetics traditionally are. Inter Milan's kits are sponsored by Pirelli. The hat that was sent to me, the typeface, everything- EVERYTHING, made sense. The attention to detail needed no words. There was no note.

There didn't need to be. 

There only needed to be a Virgil to paint all of culture his shade of off white, flat white, or canary yellow, and we are all better for it.

Thank you Virgil. Thank you for your life. I wish we physically met, but we didn't have to. 

There's a whole generation who wouldn't even exist without you. You've met millions of us exactly where we were at, and in the process kicked down the doors to make what we all do even possible. 

 

 Although Wanderset sold in 2019 & became esports brand FaZe Clan- I found the piece in it's entirety. Here it is. This is still the best thing I think I've ever been blessed enough to do. Long live King Virgil. 

 

How Virgil Painted Cultures Sistine Chapel Off White

Joey A.X For Wanderset | Cover Art : Drew McCarver 

virgil abloh joeyax joey a.x drew mccarver offwhite joey a.x creative director

 

Original Publish: Nov 19 2017 Wanderset.com 

 

37 year old Virgil Abloh is old enough to know better and young enough to still try that shit.

It’s the process.

His ancestry is as Ghanaian as our former World Cup foe, but he’s also as Chi-Town as they come. Abloh, a native of Rockford, Illinois, he grew up in the shadows of the Windy City and then went to college at the University of Wisconsin, where he got a degree in Architecture and civil engineering.

If nothing else, it more or less just affirmed he was a visionary.

Unlike most of the American 30 something creatives, Virgil is using his degree. The laymen wouldn’t assume it, I imagine. So let me over-explain for said Layman.

He’s the architect of civil engineering in culture. Period. 

Since 2011 he’s been building the cultural metro we operate in.

 

In 2011 he was the creative mind behind Kanye and Jay-Z’s seminal “Watch The Throne” – a record so big it defied genre and became somewhat of a rock opera, a “We Are The Champions” in a post a Freddie Mercury world.

WTT was more Vatican than XXL. It didn’t give a shit about the fans. 

It aimed at the ceiling and took the fans with it.

Virgil envisioned that.

Then Vigil envisioned the lookbook for it, using Pyrex as the wardrobe for the wave. The streets went nuts, sure – but who cares? The streets go nuts for a shit mixtape from some panflash who sounds like a fringe 90’s Harlem rapper from the UK that’s supposed to be the next (insert big name here). Budgets win battles in our world. But substance, vision, lux et veritas, sustains.

The latter is what Virgil got that most missed.

Kanye did his part on Zane Lowe and aimed right at the old guard in Europe. People laughed at leather joggers. Then people went out and spent real bread on leather joggers. Kanye said he was a genius. Half the people laughed. The other half knew he was right. He was part Warhol and part Pollock, part shy and addicted Basquiat and part Haring, drawing big ass dicks on the wall just cuz he could. 

Look at this thing.

 

 

It doesn’t matter what you or I think. It matters what the culture did. Street and luxury combined. Helmut Lang & Rick Owens were all of a sudden not only known; but jocked, by cats from 125th. They turned that piss stained Harlem train jump by Popeyes and the old Uptown Liquor Mart into fucking Milan. Culture collided. Real art is, if nothing else, a beautiful contradiction.

 

 

Virgil then folded Pyrex. He started working with other Dj’s and rappers and creatives and crafted BEEN TRILL. Again the market responded. When you have the juice, the willows bend to your whim. The difference was this wasn’t some  run of the mill street shit. This wasn’t some accidental lightning in the bottle. This was well crafted. This was well read. This wasn’t Hollywood Squares, it was Jeopardy.

The shift was happening.

Culture started to shape itself differently at that point. Art galleries mattered. MoMa mattered. TED talks mattered.  Pyrex was used to cook crack in my neighborhood growing up, just like it had in the Chi, LA, the DMV and The A. Crack all of a sudden had a much broader meaning at runway shows. I heard a much older, whiter, and gayer fashion writer in NYC refer to an old Giorgio Beverly Hills piece as “Pure crack.” That was within the past year.

The old guard was adopting what most thought they’d never even foster. Real change is when even the old starts to look like the new.

joey a.x creative director virgil abloh drew mccarver wanderset joeyax

Credit: Drew McCarver

 

The youth want mirrors, but the grown ups want art.

As a former skate kid, Hip-hop artist and “creative urban polymath” if you will, I know what a brand like Supreme meant before the hypebeast douchebags cannibalized it. I remember Team Supreme in the 90s. I remember CCS. I remember The Roots, punk and hardcore and I remember being enamored of how Supreme was some dope shit that was for me. I never in a million years thought Louis Vuitton would be working with dudes from the movie KIDS. Guess what, I’m not mad either. I’m proud.

In a non linear way, Virgil had a lot to do with that. Kanye was making high art and Virgil was preaching the gospel.

 

Virgil created OFF_WHITE and the world blew over.

It didn't come with a count down ticker either. It had cultural legs. You saw both American VC and European athletes wearing it. Paris Fashion Week championed it. The hood fucked with it. It truly connected. It connected in the way you would ideally hope anything you'd ever create to connect. 

 

 

“What Virgil does really well is cross-platform messaging. He realizes he is his brand and it’s in everything he does, from his DJ name being Flat White to wearing his products in public and connecting with young influencers who also wear his product,” says Jian DeLeon, senior menswear editor at WGSN. “In addition to being inspired by youth culture, he remains an active part of it. Whereas Kanye West said ‘Listen to the kids,’ Virgil is actually out there with them.”

The OFF WHITE and Nike Collab Wanderset brought to you from this past ComplexCon was more than a sneaker. It’s a culture time capsule. It’s for those that get it, those who always got it, and those that will continue to. It’s for the kids who grew up on decks and in cyphers, for those that didn’t do the rule following thing, because when we tagged walls it wasn’t an act of crime and ruin, it was an act of re-creation.

At the end of the day, when all the engrained horse shit and conditioning and politics and religiosity subsides, God is creation. And the real meaning of life just may be to leave the planet better than we found it.

 

Virgil isn’t a God. But God’s spirit is for sure in him. To gauge where Virgil will go is impossible. It could be an era, or he could be the paint splattered zeitgeist. He could make fashion the new jazz, the new hip-hop, the new pop art.

The world is just a canvas we can repaint. Right now, the primary color just happens to be a rich shade of "Off White."

 

 

Fuck man, that was really really hard to even read again. 

 

Thank you Virgil. 

Thank you Virgil.

Thank you Virgil. 

Thank you Virgil

Thank you Virgil. 

Thank you Virgil

Thank you V