Love it or hate it, here’s why Virgil Abloh thinks his collaboration with Vitra is urgent

Weil am Rhein – Take a look at the comments under this Instagram post by Vitra, where the furniture brand presents the new spin-off items from its Virgil Abloh collaboration – the updated Antony chair, the remixed Petite Potence wall lamp and an orange ceramic brick. Seldom has the brand received that amount of incensed vitriol and adoring praise in such quick succession – hell know no fury as a millennial scorned. Abloh’s proposal is, to say the least, igniting a conversation about the DNA of future furniture classics.

No stranger to that love-hate sandwich, Abloh spoke with CEO Nora Fehlbaum yesterday at the Vitra Campus, to discuss in detail the vision behind this collaboration. And perhaps as a sign that the brand is willing to take the heat and see itself in a new way, Abloh’s new companion exhibition, a challenge called TWENTYTHIRTYFIVE that foresees a future (probably) without furniture, is being held in a rather symbolic spot: the fire station at the Weil am Rhein campus.

Here are some key moments from Abloh’s conversation with Fehlbaum.

[+] URGENCY

NORA FEHLBAUM: When we started talking about the project I was a bit skeptical. I thought you wouldn’t have the patience for us and our way of working.

VIRGIL ABLOH: You told me, ‘if you can wait four years, we can do a project.’ I said, ‘you haven’t worked with me yet.’ Speed is the name of the game here. And here we are a year later. I shaved three years off the impossible. [Laughs]

NF: Then we started talking about how you wanted to translate this knowledge for younger generations.

VA: I feel that it’s urgent, as designers, to make sure that design doesn’t leave out the 17-year-old boy who has no clue about art history. They should be invited into this conversation, if these icons are going to exist in pop culture. It should be common language, like Nikes. I found it to be quite niche in the design community. I speak to a generation that is eager to participate, but they don’t have a go-between.

We need to make sure that design doesn’t leave out the 17-year-old boy who has no clue about art history

[2] THE CIVIC NATURE OF FURNITURE

VA: As designers, we’re all pessimists. ‘Do we need furniture?’ we ask first. Our futures are informed by a hazy memory of the past. The exhibition features a collage of things that we might have grown up with. But with the epiphany that we in the global design community had about sustainability, do we need furniture in the year 2035? That’s why furniture made by design icons can be reinterpreted to be the most coveted, desirable things and tell a very personal story.

The Antony chair [by Jean Prouvé], for example, is an icon in its own right. I wanted to present it to a new generation, so that they could see themselves living with those objects, for a multitude of reasons. I believe that Prouvé was an important moment in design history. It should be presented to a 14 or 17-year-old who can then understand the impact, and offer a 2.0 through my design language.

NF: What is it about Prouvé that draws you in?

VA: The civic nature of his work is very important. You don’t design an icon – before it becomes one, it needs to be washed through life and culture. I liked the narrative and the post-narrative.

NF: I thought it was something about his aesthetic as well – when I see Prouve’s and your pieces, they are not instantly gratifying. That’s why I thought there was a certain connection there, as well.

[+] HOME IS WHERE THE ONE ESSENTIAL UNIT IS

VA: Instead of a kitchen, you might just need one essential unit for all your entertainment: WiFi, your Alexa, your own server. That might mean more than your actual home. Will Apple keep making iPhones or will a home pod turn into this?

As a designer, I protect myself from doing the easy pessimism of the day

[+] WHOSE TIME IS IT?

VA: The engine of the world is negativity. When you group designers, we tend to be pessimistic. Every generation will say it was greater yesterday. It’s easier to say that things were better at the time of your first concert, when there were no cell phones. But for this 14-year-old or this 17-year-old, this is their time. As a designer, I protect myself from doing the easy pessimism of the day. The world will keep evolving just in the same way it evolved from rotary phones to cell phones.

[+] HEY, HATERS

NF: As we launched this collaboration about a week ago, we got in touch with your fan base, a huge group of people that follow you. But we also realize that there’s not only that fan base… you also have a series of internet trolls that follow you around. As a design company, we were shell-shocked. But you deal with this every day. How do you do it? You don’t care?

VA: I’m not concerned. It’s a new day. It’s a body of work that’s being created just to see how far we can go. What is the future if designers aren’t brave enough to tackle new territory? If I listen to a critique, then I will create less… and what good is that?

TWENTHYTHIRTYFIVE is open to the public at the Vitra Campus until 31 July

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