Virgil Abloh on DJing and streetwear: ‘Fashion is about to take a left turn’

The taste-maker, Kanyes creative director and now DJ talks about swapping designing for the decks and why Malcolm McLarens Duck Rock is still cool

Virgil Abloh is most famous for his role as Kanye Wests creative director, but he has a reputation as a taste-making force on social media and on the runway. He also co-founded the Bromance Records label with a coterie of Parisian DJs and producers, and performs around the world as a DJ in his own right. We caught up with him backstage at a Boiler Room event, which he curated, in a warehouse in Brooklyn, obviously.

Hey Virgil! What have you been up to?

I just got done playing Las Vegas less than 24 hours ago. I flew from Paris, where I have a residency, played Las Vegas and then played in an art gallery for Tom Sachs here in New York. I havent slept or been to the hotel.

Sounds exhausting. What made you want to do this Boiler Room event?

This night is super important to me and, without any sort of like, credit to myself, I think its a very important night in the modern history of club culture.


Yeah, its big but, it needs to be big. In the time that Im around, whether its in a cultural position between arts or music or fashion or something like that I want to represent the most real the hands down most real. My mentor in the DJ space has been Benji B.

Benji B, the BBC radio DJ? How did he become your mentor?

Because iPlayer and BBC Radio was global and I was tuned in. I started with Gilles Petersen, 13 or 14 years ago and Ive been listening to Benji B literally for 12 years every week. Im from Chicago, and I learned about my own house music history through his radio show, him doing Chicago specials or Detroit specials or what have you. Im a child of Deviation and I consider him like an Anna Wintour of music.

High praise. When did you start DJing?

Ive been DJing since I was in high school. A-Trak was my idol and I started out in turntablism. You know, Roc Raida, Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Mix Master Mike. My cousin had a record shop, Deal Real in Soho, and thats where Kanye met A-Trak. Thats where I come from, like any teenager during those years being interested in music and Technics 1200s and Vestax mixer.

Youve got a line of clothes (Off White), youve released a book, and youre creative director for Kanye West. Why are you adding DJing to your schedule?

DJing is my only peace of mind. When the phone is off, I play my favourite songs really loud for myself and Im not talking to anyone, Im not managing anything; its just like a time when I can listen to music. So for me now, in the same way I still skateboard now. I dont play golf. Ill be DJing after Im done designing or doing anything else.

Virgil Alboh djing at the Boiler room night in Brooklyn Photograph: PR
Fashion and music have always had a close relationship. Whats your favourite fashion moment in music?

Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren and Hiroshi Fujiwara going to Japan sharing hip-hop and punk music and the merger of that. Malcolm McLaren going to Africa and mixing those soulful vibes with what was happening and making Duck Rock. I feel thats what this gang is doing here. You could argue that now more than ever in the history of the sort of like club culture has there needed to be someone to step up and create a vibe. This is the cross international communication thats on my record label: Bromance. To me its at the forefront, it feels like Def Jam.

Who is the best dressed DJ?

Gesaffelstein (aka Mike Lvy). Hes impeccably dressed. I dont know Tiga but everything that I see that he puts out is really good from a style point of view. But theres a bunch. DJing is like a great tasteful art form.

You once said streetwear was like disco and that streetwear lived and it died. Has it been brought back to life like that guy from Game of Thrones?

My quote was that it could end up like disco, its still TBD, its too soon to tell how the term will age. My sentiment behind that was that you need to make it intellectual, like jazz. Jazz described a sound at the time that was highly intellectual, it lasts, its never going to fade. But a term like disco or the scene felt so in tune at the time but now it doesnt have the same depth that it could have had.

Is Off White street wear or is that now a redundant term?

Its fine. I like a term, it gives me something to work around.

You once said youre trying to avoid a day job by having ideas. Thirty ideas a day. Whats been on your mind recently?

The art world. I have some friends who are great artists. Thats more whats intriguing me on a day-to-day basis: whats happening in the gallery scene. All of us here have a mentor in the form of Aaron Bondaroff, who does the radio station Know Wave; hes an instrumental figure in New York streetwear culture and hes gone on to move into the gallery world.

Do you want to have your own gallery as well?

Yeah. Curating artists, making a home for artists where their ideas can be bought and sold. Not necessarily just in the form of a T-shirt or a mixtape or a DJ set.

What was your reaction when you got the hour-long version of Kanye Wests Father Stretch My Hands for your recent Paris fashion week show?

I had a conversation with Kanye and he said he had a version. It was perfect. Kanye and I are brothers for life. We started on the same mission of being kids from Chicago trying to push beyond being boxed in and have music as our only form of expression to the world. When your brother gives you a song thats never been heard and its a crazy arrangement it was all synergy.

Werent you a bit annoyed that it was so long?

Well, my show is only 10 minutes so I just used a little piece of it. But it was the perfect piece.

What will fashion in 2016 be remembered for?

I think streetwear getting another notch on the bedpost of being a solidified new genre. In the early days it was seen as a trend and not really being valid, but this year I think itll be remembered for having a huge impact on high fashion. Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga or Alessandro Michele at Gucci show that fashion is about to take a left turn.

Virgil Abloh was speaking at Ray-Ban X Boiler Rooms Fight Perfection party

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