In light of everything happening in regards to police brutality, the fashion industry is scrambling to find the right words. In the past, the industry has arguably turned a blind eye to the Black Lives Matter movement, and designers like Kerby Jean-Raymond have found themselves speaking to an industry that sees their work as “groundbreaking” but ultimately ignores the message encompassed through their garments.
There are few Black fashion industry mavens who hold high-power positions and Off-White creator and Louis Vuitton menswear designer Virgil Abloh is one of them. But he’s not too high to be criticized.
This weekend, Black creatives expressed their distaste for the designer after he sent out mixed messages regarding the protests and riots that have transpired after the death of George Floyd. While there were peaceful protesting throughout parts of the country, other protests resulted in the looting of multiple luxury stores in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago.
Abloh and his White streetwear counterparts were not exempt, as most of them have storefronts in Los Angeles. “We’re a part of a culture together. Is this what you want?” Abloh wrote on Instagram after Sean Wotherspoon’s Round Two Vintage was ransacked.
Abloh’s outcry left Black creatives confused due to his unusual silence on Black and brown issues. He’s been able to grab the masses and support of the Black community while separating himself from social issues. While Abloh employs rappers like 21 Savage to model for his campaigns, his touch on the culture usually stops there.
Shortly after the Internet caught word about Abloh’s post, photos including his rumored all-White staff pictures began to circulate. Fashion historian Shelby Ivey Christie also pointed out that Abloh was under fire last year for allegedly stealing from a young Back designer by the name of Wole Olosunde.
Amid the criticism, the designer donated $50 to a fund created by Fempower to bail out protestors in Miami. For some, this donation was a little too late.
“A donation is a donation we suppose? Thankful for all the humor that this has brought,” wrote a rep on the Fempower Instagram story.
The question of if Virgil is truly “for the culture,” arises again.
Virgil responded hours later with a now-deleted Instagram story in which he wrote, “more light before a narrative forms around false assumptions,” adding that he needs to “express some context.” He added that he posted the $50 donation because it was a matching campaign. The post, Virgil said, was meant to “inspire other[s] to do the same.” He also hinted that he had donated more money that just $50.
The New York Times followed up Monday evening with a story saying Abloh sent the publication a “lengthy” post addressing racism and then decided to rescind it.
“He has changed his mind in how he will respond to this whenever he does finally respond,” a rep told NYT.
The designer has now posted an official response to his Instagram page: “Let me start with a few central facts. I am a Black man. A dark Black man. Like dark-dark.”
Virgil said the “risk of literal death” has become a part of his normal life. “Any interaction with the police could be fatal to me.” He then apologized, saying his comments about looting seemed to be his “main concerns,” and they’re not.
Last, in a written statement, he addressed his seemingly $50 donation: “I have donated $20,500 to bail funds and other causes related to the movement. I will continue to donate more and will continue to use my voice to urge my peers to do the same.”
He ended his lengthy statement by writing, “I am an agent of change…. I lead with love and move with respect to everyone I[‘ve] ever met.”