I was saddened by the passing of young and exciting new designer Virgil Abloh. He was so young and fresh in his thinking about pop culture and how it intersected with fashion. I had met him a while ago at the launch of the Apple Watch, and we talked about sneakers and pop culture. It was not difficult to get in a conversation with him. I have followed his work from the time he worked with Kanye West. In his obituaries, this one paragraph from the accompanying text for his exhibition, Figures of Speech stood out.
Tourist and purist, that’s my main device to understand the sections of culture, that move culture forward. You have a purist, that’s like, I know the whole art history of everything, you can’t do this, this was done 20-times before you thought of it. Like, this is the pure institution. Then there’s the tourist, who’s bright-eyed, curiosity-driven, that has a lust for learning, and they support whatever.
In an interview with Vogue, Abloh elaborated in even simpler terms:
“It’s my organizing principle for my point of view when I make things. A tourist is someone who’s eager to learn, who wants to see the Eiffel Tower when they come to Paris. The purist is the person who knows everything about everything.”
I have written in the past — the hardest thing for me is to unlearn everything to make room for new things in my thinking. This organizing principle just might be Abloh’s best gift to us, who run the risk of finding ourselves in the expert trap.