This month saw Off White Founder & Creative Director Virgil Abloh and Nike Designer Nate Jobe in conversation discussing the design, collaboration and the journey that led to ‘The Ten’, a collaborative sneaker release in celebration of iconic Nike footwear classics.  Offering an inside look at the process and touching on themes of design, sport and style, Abloh & Jobe brought their ‘Off Campus’ lecture series to London this September.  One of the select few fortunate enough to be in the room was Island Records’ Senior Digital Marketing Manager Faye Williams – so we thought she’d be a pretty good source to hit up for the insights.

Abloh & Jobe on: Collaboration

“A true collaboration is when two parties come together to create something they couldn’t on their own,” Virgil says of the value of collaboration, before going on to explain that although he and Jobe met at a party and their collaboration developed naturally, it wasn’t all down to chance.

 “Most natural collaborations take place from an idea usually sparked at a casual event.  Make more friends, do it together, network, make a community, disrupt that community, talk about your work, be open minded.”

The pair also stress the importance of collaborative ownership: “Don’t be afraid to start wide with your ideas, then consolidate them.  And don’t be ashamed if you didn’t think of the idea, be proud to have contributed towards the process.”

Abloh & Jobe on: Career

For Abloh & Jobe, drawing influence from a variety of art forms and disciplines outside their own has only strengthened their work, and the narrative of their careers.

 Abloh, for example, is an accomplished DJ and his creative direction with Kanye West is well documented.  He spelled out how his love for different forms of cultural expression help him to create a narrative that works for him: “I love fashion, art, architecture, music, I have no boundaries.  If my inspirations vary then I can focus on a narrative that works for me.”  This is borne out in his work; Duchamp-inspired typography being a signature elements in his designs, for example.

Abloh & Jobe on: Opportunity

“Nine times out of ten I’m on the street,” says Abloh on the importance of keeping an ear to the ground.  Make no mistake though, that’s not the best place to approach him.  “It’s all in the pitch.  You’re ten times more likely to pitch an idea to me at a party than on the street.  Find out which parties I’m playing at, share my taste in music, and make me laugh.  That’s your window to pitch.”

One approach Virgil takes to pitching is to “think about how people discover your things and how you pitch it, not the content itself.”  He’s not averse to the door-to-door approach, as long as it’s done differently, or at a time when your competition is doing something else.  “Don’t look at what everybody else is doing, geek out on your own history and DNA, go down that dark road.”

“Nike hire staff from different cultural backgrounds, who are in to different things, so they can bring different dimensions and personalities to team and the brand.  If you can sneak in to a Nike party you’re not invited to, that’s a good start to show you have what it takes to work for Nike,” says Jobe.

Another ‘cheat code’ the two speak of is how to take the word ‘no’ and use it productively.  “Use the first no as feedback for six other ideas.  No isn’t the end, there might be a technical workaround, so how do you push and test boundaries?” says Virgil, who used to send sneaker designs to Nike in his adolescent years, only to receive rejection letters some weeks later [an irony that certainly wasn’t lost on Abloh, Jobe or the audience].

Abloh & Jobe on: Fashion and Music

Abloh, who sees himself as a cultural designer, explored with Jobe the intrinsic relationship between music and fashion, and how the two disciplines can inform design concepts and ideas.  They used the ‘All Black’ Nike Air Force Ones – Jay Z’s iconic 2010 Nike collaboration – to illustrate.  Abloh encouraged the audience to think about how the two worlds can be explored together to create something new – “what would be the shoe for SoundCloud rappers?”

It’s impossible not to be inspired by such passionate speakers, and hearing the two exchange ideas is a genuine privilege.  After a series of ten lectures, workshops and parties across the world to launch ‘The Ten’, Abloh still reflects with remarkable humility: “I’m literally you guys, after DJing at 3am, I still sit there in shock that this has actually happened.”

Words: Faye Williams
Photos: Faye Williams, Nike

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