He has been called a lot of things over the past 6 years since his entry into the fashion industry. “A renaissance man,” “the Andy Warhol of our times,” and amongst the most recent of such names and speculations is that Virgil Abloh is the “Karl Lagerfeld for Millenials.”
How true this assertion or speculation is or the depth of the versatility of such speculation is quite unknown. This is simply because well many in his line have refused to admit such and also because well, many see him as a whole lot of things but not a Karl Lagerfeld.
Virgil Abloh is most known as the founder of Off-White and the men’s wear designer of Louis Vuitton. And he is assertively into every means that exudes and expresses art in its most diversified form. Guess it’s why he has worked and collaborated with other fashion brands like Evian, Nike, Vitra, Ikea, Champion, Equinox, Jimmy Choo, Sunglass Hut and McDonald’s, why he has his works shown and sold in a few galleries and museums like the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Galerie Kreo in Paris, Gagosian, the Louvre, it also why he’s a D.J at CircoLoco in Ibiza, Jimmy’s in Monte Carlo, Coachella, the Sub Club in Glasgow and the Potato Head Beach Club in Bali. To top that up, he has lectured at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, and Columbia. If that isn’t a passion for arts and all things art-related, one wonders what else is.
Putting his artistic credentials aside, and going back to the proposed supposition, a closer look at Virgil Abloh and Karl Lagerfeld, — one might even spot a few things that render them uniquely similar even if it is at extreme or upgraded ends of the pole and yet they are so sparingly different that their persons cannot be imagined to match or crisscross even in a thousand millennials. Yet the supposition holds a lot of ground and hindsight.
To begin with, Karl Lagerfeld was a world-renowned designer of Chanel, Fendi and his own line and others, his popularity is and was that of the ultimate fashion figure who used his genius intellect and imagination to create art in an unparalleled manner and whose overall essence could not be fully grasped and contained in a single fashion line. He was a professional designer who gave other designers the right to be designers.
On the other hand, Virgil Abloh is the man who presumed that one doesn’t have to be a designer, a man who sees himself as a maker and who embraces and propagates the idea that fashion is beyond just the clothes but extends symbols of community and he also propagates the notion that the uniforms of various youth subcultures have a legitimate place in the temple of the elite. He is a man who seems to tap into and thrive upon the notions of a new generation of consumers who have different ideas of what really matters in contrast to what the world is propagating.
On his part, ultimate fashion designer Lagerfeld was a white German whose surroundings while growing up was of high culture and elitism and who later became an apprentice in Paris amongst the most historic French houses (Balmain, Patou) before his career began at Chloé. While Abloh is a black American and a child of Ghanaian immigrants whose early backgrounds were of his studying engineering in college, then architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology got to work with Kanye West for a decade and then opened Off-White in 2013 the only formal industry apprenticeship link associated with him consisted of six months at Fendi.
Lagerfeld on his part comes from and grew in the couture tradition while Abloh built his career with street wear. While Lagerfeld saw himself as the guardian and custodian of artistic heritage, Abloh sees himself as the forerunner and heralded of cultural change and also a breaker of boundaries. These are definitely the never matching differences between them.
Their similarities on the other hand match in unique areas as for one, like Lagerfeld who ventured into photography and book publishing, and also collaborated with brands that included H&M and Coke, Abloh also has a thing for putting his name and trademark on everything. Surprisingly, both share a thing or two when it comes to their representation of the world around them, their hold on their audience and their manner of speaking. Like Lagerfeld, Abloh speaks in rolling sentences and is a pleasure to listen to. As Lagerfeld had his conversations spiced with erudite references, Abloh’s version is more of popular intellectualism.
It doesn’t just stop there, cos when it comes to their signature and branded looks, each had and has something. On the part of Lagerfeld, his was powdered white ponytail, high-collar Hilditch & Key white shirt, black fingerless gloves, black jeans while that of Abloh well is the quotation mark. Both were and have been criticized for doing way too much even when the too much isn’t good stuff in the actual sense of it. On his part, Lagerfeld was called out for his extremely inappropriate statements that pertained to race and size while Abloh has been called out for copying and for his lack of originality in some peculiar cases.
Many like Didier Krzentowski, the owner of Galerie Kreo, where Mr. Abloh recently had a show of graffiti-slashed concrete furniture see Abloh as a creator and an art director and he like a few people agree that in that sense, Karl and Abloh do have something in common as he says concerning Abloh being a creator and an art director : “In which case, I agree he is like Karl. What he made for me was genuinely unique, and that’s very hard to do. You can’t do it if you are only an art director. But maybe he’s an art director when it comes to fashion.” Others like Michael Burke, the chief executive of Louis Vuitton, who hired Mr. Abloh in 2018 and previously as chief executive of Fendi, worked with Mr. Lagerfeld from 2003 to 2012 say: Mr. Abloh “is digital, like Karl. Cross-generational, like Karl. Hard-working, like Karl. Intelligent, like Karl.”
Others in the fashion line completely have a distaste for Abloh most especially pertaining to his propensity for shortcuts or “the three percent approach” as he said in the New Yorker which emphasises that changing a design by that percentage is enough to make it qualify as new. To these fashion individuals who feel that a designer should agonize over the creative process see Abloh’s little input and quick changes as disrespect to art.
With all the striking similarities and also the deep yet shaping differences, one is left to still wonder about the initial proposition of Abloh being the Lagerfeld of the millennials as one of Lagerfeld’s contributions to the fashion world was the way he changed everyone’s idea of what it meant to be a great designer, reshaping it in his image as a jack-of-all-brands. In that sense, Abloh really is the jack-of-all-designs.
Therefore one is left to wonder if the statement which is considered blasphemous by some whose reaction to the statement is “Oh, please, no!” or “That’s crazy!” or “Is this a joke?” is actually a true fact that many refuse to swallow or if it’s not. Some have diplomatically said when approaching the statement that “fashion has changed so much, the world has changed” hence one can actually say that Abloh is the Karl Lagerfeld heir that the new world has made rather than Karl Lagerfeld that the world wants.