Furniture / Off-White™ "GREY AREA"
Virgil Abloh Framing the Grey Area
Text by Anne Bony
In Chicago, a city of architectural and design pioneers, Virgil Abloh experiences the modern world to the full. With all his sensors on and in working order, he testifies to the freedom of expression of a generation born with new information and communication technologies (NICT). This is very much his generation as he was born in 1980 and relishes his role in this societal revolution. Virgil Abloh takes a keen interest in history and its evolutionary cycles, his knowledge enables him to compare the upheaval in today’s society with the Renaissance period he studied in university.
He admires the genius and taste for innovation of such masters as Leonardo da Vinci and his work on perspective, Le Bernin’s sensual expression of the human body’s beauty or the way Caravaggio played with light and shade.
His studies initially took him into structural engineering, providing him with a technical foundation. He then realised that art and architecture were his field of predilection. Taking his lead from Walter Gropius, who declared, in his founding Bauhaus manifesto in 1919, that “Architecture is the aim of all creative activity”, Abloh moved into architecture and went to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology. There, he discovered the subtlety of the modern movement on a campus designed by the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1940.
For over a decade his work experience is decorated with collabrations with many of the world contemporary artists in the realism of pop-culture, high fashion and fine art.
Instead of building he exalts youth in his work, and, he is young and appreciates the way his generation has made its mark on society: contemporary music , the young class of artists… Abloh recognises the generosity and freedom of this movement that comes from the street and to reflect this effervescence, his collection is a hybrid of fine art, street influences and the interactive verve of a generation that is constantly connected to the internet and to music. His urban roots can be seen in the crosswalk graphic or Daniel Buren line work that forms the DNA of his fashion collections. In 2013, he established his brand Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh, an online platform for his thoughts and his singular artistic vision. In one of his videos, he confirms his faith in young people “The youth will always win”, his fashion shows are true events. He works in an open, transversal way with no distinction of quality. Labels mean nothing to him, whether it be artist, architect, fashion designer or designer, he is free and open to the “air du temps”.
Virgil Abloh sees the act of creating as a need, his desire knows no bounds and this has prompted his move from fashion into the realm of furniture design. His Off-White projects come from a creative place where he can express his thoughts (cosa mentale), a space for his “grey zone”, a thought process that insinuates into and alters the notion of dichotomy, proposing an alternative to notions, some time opposing other similar: black and white, black and grey, heavy and light, transparent and opaque… He prophetically composes a space within a space, taking his inspiration from architectural and urbanist references. His urban experience, where he shares his time between tribes of young artists and creatives, feeds into his “grid” and his constantly moving visual organisation. Grids, segments, superimpositions, these perspectives express a truly urban energy and feed his creativity.
His first furniture collection entitled Framing is a logical continuation of this thought process. A visual communication of the ideal that the grid can support in a current space and current time. It constitutes a new means with which to satisfy Abloh’s urge to invest a space. Not unlike Andrea Branzi’s No-Stop City, (1969), a theoretical project that proposed a model for global urbanisation, Virgil Abloh implements the idea of the disappearance of furniture inside the house. He creates a critical utopia based on a realist vision of design as a conceptual tool that modifies lifestyles. The habitat becomes a place that can be lived as a creative and personal activity by the individual. This radical analysis of architecture and design thus proposes a model of immaterial objects that have been divested of all symbolic value. The functional volumes of Framing collection are neutral, minimalist and intelligible, designed using an underlying structure of iron wires, taking inspiration from his architectural profession, resulting in a form of elevation. Paradoxically, these cages with their infinite limits, provide a clearly defined function as chairs and tables. The proportions are precise and meticulous, Virgil Abloh never forgets his engineering background, the volumes are transparent and precise and designed with consideration of weight distribution and redundancy. A conversation begins between the table and the desk, between the lightness of the structure and the weight of the marble slab, between the geometric grid and the random beauty of the natural materials. The mechanical manufacturing of the structure of the pieces contrasts with the artisanal engraving of the words “Off” and “White”, the letters scarify the surface of the marble for eternity, not unlike grave stones. The musky leather on the bench brings a note of natural sensuality.
The Framing plays with transparency and inhabits the space discreetly, almost providing a ghostly shell-like presence. This is an “open source” collection that allows the objects to be appropriated, with no limits.
There are new projects underway and Virgil Abloh is truly committed on a global level. His endless curiosity is fed daily by optimism and an unwavering faith in the treasures of the contemporary world.