Virgil Abloh & Octavian in conversation

The designer and rising musician discuss what it means to be free from cultural barriers.

In late 2017, Octavian released Party Here – a sleeper hit which famously caught Drake’s ear. Among Octavian’s new fans was Virgil Abloh, soon to be announced as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear in March 2018. At Virgil’s first Vuitton runway show in Paris, Octavian walked alongside the likes of Dev Hynes, Playboi Carti, The Internet’s Steve Lacy and Kid Cudi, while cameras crowded Virgil as he embraced his longtime friend Kanye West for a celebratory hug.

Octavian and Virgil have since maintained both a friendship and a sense of mutual admiration. In this conversation, recorded 15 April, the musician and designer discuss how their international network is helping to develop contemporary culture. 

Audio transcription:

Octavian: Yo.

Virgil:
Yo, what’s good? How goes it?

Octavian:
What’s good, homie?

Virgil:
My taste in music has always been informed by what’s happening in the British music scene. So since I was in college, I’ve been listening to sort of two primary places to sort of, like, get educated on music. Because in America, pop culture on the radio isn’t current culture, you know? It’s sort of American radio. So I was listening to Gilles Petersen and Benji B, you know, over 10, it’s got to be, like, 15 years now. And I first heard the tune Party Here from Benji playing it a bunch. And I was like, you know, through all of these different years of wanting UK music to sort of find its home in American pop culture – there were moments in the past when I thought it was gonna happen, but it never did. Then Party Here, obviously, is a special track that embodies the best of a certain time in the past, but obviously it’s brand new and new artist. I was like, this track is fire, whoever it is has to be fire. And then I just sort of followed you, Octavian, on Instagram and I’m like immediately, like, you know, this is artistry that I want to get behind. And we just met digitally, you know? It’s 2019, no need to physically interact.

Octavian:
That is true. In Paris it was one of the maddest days of my life because it was like, fam, I came from the London roads. Opportunities like this wasn’t really given to London rappers. The only person that got that far was Skepta, do you know what I’m saying? Skepta went far in the fashion ting, he was very much in the fashion ting. And he changed the whole culture of London. That’s when London started to really pop. American artists started to come through to London for this culture that was there. But the culture actually really started with Skepta. And that’s what people need to know. That Skepta is the one that formulated and polished this culture and made it so gold. Being from the roads but yet being fashionable, and no one had that. Do you know what I’m saying?

It was the idea that kids from the bottom or kids from the left of centre – we can make a T‑shirt like a certain sense of pride, that it can sort of be our version of couture in a way.”

Virgil: For me it goes back to like me sort of, like, following the scene. You know, I’m just an American kid and trust, when JME, when the whole Boy Better Know T‑shirts movement was happening, that almost gave me the esteem to do Pyrex Vision which became Off-White which became Louis Vuitton. You know, it was the idea that kids from the bottom or kids from the left of centre – we can make a T‑shirt like a certain sense of pride, that it can sort of be our version of couture in a way. And I think the confidence that you see now is if it’s Skepta polishing it up, if it’s a young kid like Octavian sort of knowing the right chambers that came just before him and pushing it forward, it’s like we’re all on the playing field at the same time. So let’s elevate all of our cultures and, you know, that’s what you see. Like that runway show moment, it was the end of the era in sort of my book about looking for someone to be in the show. You know, it’s like organically who’s around me – that should be the show that represents me. Octavian’s music, the way he carries himself, Skepta and the way he carries himself, the way, you know, our mutual friends – that’s our tribe. You know, it’s not even fashion anymore. It’s just the international network of kids.

Octavian: Exactly. It’s the whole wave, it’s like a generation. It’s weird, like, it’s right now that it’s happening: the shift between everyone being separated and everyone being sort of together, and that’s the mad thing. And you know what I feel like? Virgil, you had a massive, massive, massive part in me being recognised in America and me being recognised into fashion and me being recognised into a lot of things. So like, first and foremost, I need to thank you for that. And do you know what? To be that tastemaker, to recognise the path of that, I don’t know, the path of everyone and to bring everyone together, I feel that’s such a crazy thing to do.

Virgil:
Well, you know what it is? It’s like all of us at one point were those kids that couldn’t get into the nightclub, you know? So it’s like, I would be in London, I would be running around in different spots and what I think we did is the camaraderie amongst all the different crews, whether its in Paris with Sossah or New York with, whoever, like Know Wave kids or LA with Zack Bia or whatever. It’s like, we’ve all decided that the generation is now and it’s us. You’re making the soundtrack to it, I’m trying to make some clothes that go along next to it, and we’re just doing our thing, you know?

Octavian: I just feel like the next thing is, for me personally, even though I’m in a very competitive game, I feel like here in America and LA, it’s not as competitive but more appreciative, do you know what I’m trying to say to you? But it’s very specific, Virgil, we have to understand that, it’s very specific. You’re the person that just brought all the people that were artists kind of together and then made a massive crew of, like, the same type of people. Do you know what I’m trying to say?

Virgil:
What you’re hitting on is like, it’s not even just our time. Since the dawn of humanity, we’re hacking the system. Why did UK music never cross over before? Why is it like, oh, I listen to this, I don’t listen to that’? If you rap like this, that’s not even rap, or that beat isn’t even hip-hop or, that’s not garage, or that’s not techno. That was a system long before we were born, to subdivide people to sort of hate on each other. And I think we’re the first generation to sort of like call the bluff on those things that divide up each other. As long as we can all sort of make a name for ourselves and sort of ascend in our whatever, economic class or sort of creative ability, that international community you’re talking about – we’re straight. You know there’s no competition amongst us because we decided that that isn’t going to keep us down.

Octavian:
Do you know what I’m saying? I grew up in London in poverty. No one liked me. I had to push my way through into where I am now. I had to really push. And now, like, seeing the level two, being in LA and seeing how many artists there are and how much attention one person gets. How much attention we need as a culture, because I feel like this culture around and my friends around, it needs to be recognised as the best people that have ever done it. All I’m gonna do is bring people through and that’s what I wanted to do from when I was young. Right now it’s about, obviously like, focus and getting to be as big as I can be. But the way I’m doing that is I’m just kind of adapting to whatever is there, do you know what I’m saying? BET, for example, and Party Here are completely different songs, but BET is the song that made me even bigger. It’s weird. And my album is completely different. I’ve got an ulterior person inside of me. I play the guitar and I’m a rockstar. I don’t know, I have no idea what I’m doing. So I have to really control my mind with fashion, with fashion culture and that’s why I respect you so much. Because I feel like we’re the same in the way that we’re so creative. That we use the rules of aesthetic to control and to kind of make it, make sense. I don’t know.

Virgil:
Yeah, nah. We bend reality, you know?

Octavian:
You know what I’m saying?

Virgil:
And it’s sort of refreshing that it actually works, you know?

Octavian:
Yeah, yeah! Alright say no more, bro. Love, man.


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