It takes a special person to bring streetwear to Paris Fashion Week, but it certainly doesn’t hurt if Frank Ocean, Kanye West, and three Kardashians are seated front row. Such is the story of Virgil Abloh, the 36-year-old founder of Milan-based fashion label Off-White, who counts the aforementioned stars as close friends and fans.
The designer’s buzzy spring runway show, held at the prestigious Paris Descartes University, focused on the (very) modern businesswoman, with suits cut in mismatched proportions and paired with T-shirts, track pants, and glittery boots for a casual riff on officewear. “The women in my life are super-empowered,” says Abloh, who also moonlights as one of West’s creative directors and DJs under the moniker Flat White. “They make their own decisions, pay their own rent, and control their own life.”
Nobody embodies this independence better than our March cover star Emily Ratajkowski, who dons one of Abloh’s high-grade cotton Ts—designed exclusively for InStyle and emblazoned with the name in ’80s-style typeface—on the front of our new issue. Here, Abloh gets candid about the T and West’s influence on his career.
First off, how did the collaboration come about?
I first met [InStyle editor-in-chef] Laura [Brown] at Coachella in the most chill atmosphere, so we became friends right off the bat. We had this cool banter. Then she came to me with the idea of a T-shirt, and I thought it was perfect—praising the T-shirt as an item. In a way, it symbolizes how important the T-shirt is in a fashion context. For my generation, it could be just as important as a red-carpet dress. I’ve always been into the art of a T-shirt and trying to design one that is coveted.
Off-White seems to pride itself on pairing a street aesthetic with high-level fabrication. How luxurious is this T-shirt?
I make things that are approachable, but I make them in the same factories in Italy as Louis Vuitton and Valentino. That makes it interesting to me. I’m very particular about fabrics. I can assure you that it took years to find the cotton that we used.
You have a masters in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. What first piqued your interest in fashion?
I love that you can make ideas and have friends wear them in real time. With architecture, it takes a really long time to get your ideas out, and there’s a lot of people that they have to go through.
How does your crew of friends factor into your fashion enterprises?
I don’t get any validation out of that; people are my genuine friends. It’s just a matter of making something that resonates. I think we live in an age where people wear whatever is comfortable to them and what their personality says. A lot of my friends don’t wear Off-White, but we all make up the Off-White think-tank. We’re all individuals, we’re all artists, and we’re all are very picky and particular. That’s how I approach clothes: I wear things that express me, and I make things for other people to express themselves.
You’ve worked with West for years. How has he influenced your approach to design?
Kanye is one of the most important cultural figures in our existence. He’s defied, molded, and broken the rules—especially in terms of multidisciplinary artistry, whether it’s music, fashion, art, architecture, or film. He’s touched a lot of realms, so I’ve been fortunate enough to work for him and we will continue to work together for an extremely long period of time.
VIDEO: Cover Girl Emily Ratajkowski Tells Us What Is In Style -- And What's Not!
What’s your end goal? What do you hope to achieve, in fashion or elsewhere?
To be an artist. I’d love to work for a house one day so I can do my ideas on the biggest scale possible. But right now, I’m pretty content.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.