ALESSIO ASCARI Let’s start from the cover. We did a photo story divided between two buildings by Mies van der Rohe in Chicago, your hometown. One is the iconic S. R. Crown Hall, home to the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where you studied. The other is the Farnsworth House, one of the architect’s signature steel and glass houses, which was built as a weekend retreat in a rural setting southwest of Chicago. I’m interested in what Mies and these particular locations mean to you, and also how your architecture training has influenced your work method stepping into a much larger definition of design, encompassing fashion and art.
VIRGIL ABLOH My education was the first file written on my empty hard drive, as a young and impressionable person trying to understand the world and understand what design was, what art was. The moment that I stepped inside Crown Hall, I lost my breath and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t fluent in architecture; I hadn’t studied it up until that point. I had been studying engineering, and that building was like a merging of engineering and architecture in a poetic way—very minimal. I figured out afterwards that me losing my breath was linked to what Mies van der Rohe had infused into this designed, very physical thing. From that point on, my career has been about learning, and communicating emotion through design. That’s why that building is important to me. It unlocked my brain about the transcending quality of art, and it’s very much a principle that I still use today.
AA Do you believe in Mies’ motto, “Less is more”?
VA Not necessarily. I think the right amount is intriguing. But that motto applied to the time in which Mies derived his ideas. His thinking is inseparable from the context of modernism. I feel like right now we’re in a different state, so I take inspiration from that minimalistic philosophy and expand on it. To me, if you look at the different art movements of our time, it’s more akin to the Renaissance.