Superstar fashion designer and entrepreneur Virgil Abloh is one of the world’s hottest names. Known for his brand Off-White and being the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, Abloh is a trained architect turned streetwear mogul. He has worked with Fendi, Kanye West, Planned Parenthood, Rihanna, and many more celebrities and fashion powerhouses. His impressive career at only 39 years old also includes starting his own companies, designing album covers, and being a DJ. However, Abloh has not always been celebrated. He’s been subject to criticism regarding a number of controversies, namely the Black Lives Matter movement and stealing other designers’ work. Here I’ll break down his biggest controversies.
- Virgil Abloh’s appointment as menswear artistic director for LV was seen as a positive milestone in an industry that has been marred by racism for decades. However, some called his response to recent protests against racism and police brutality disappointing. Abloh chastised protesters for damaging clothing stores in Los Angeles, saying that “this disgusts me”–triggering an online debate concerning conversations about the black community. Some applauded him for his statements, while others saw his tweets as tone deaf, as the protests had been sparked by a number of black men and women murdered by police this year. Twitter users were also quick to call out his screenshot of a $50 donation to Fempower, a Miami art collective, to help with legal expenses of protesters. For a designer who sells his products for several hundreds or thousands of dollars, Abloh’s well-meaning donation was seen as stingy and artificial. (This also started the joke of rating things by “Virgils” as in 2 Virgils = 100).
- Abloh is also seen to some as an extreme appropriator–his work often consists of clothing or objects slapped with the signature Off-White quotation marks and red tags, then upsold at extreme prices. Belgian fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck called Abloh a “copycat” for his recent fashion collection that mirrored Van Beirendonck’s FW16 work. But Abloh vehemently denied claims of plaigiarism, citing LV archives as his inspiration. This is only one of many accusations that the designer has stolen and appropriated others’ work.
- Off-White has been in hot water for its lack of staff diversity. In images circulated of a company Christmas party from 2018. Instagrammers spotted only one Black person among the entire team of 136 members, based in Milan. Critics called consumers to boycott Off-White. Despite being praised for being a champion of Black culture, some refuse to take him seriously due to his actions.
Although Abloh has been the subject of a number of controversies, his name remains largely celebrated in the fashion community for being a pioneering Black voice and designer. What do you think?