Innovation and error
The author is CEO of Velocity Investors.
Upon returning home about 20 days ago, I learned of Virgil Abloh’s death from my teenage son.
Abloh was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton (LVMH). At school, he studied architecture and engineering. Even as a trained architect, he was drawn to hip hop, street fashion and art. He designed tee-shirts during college years.
Then Abloh met American rapper Kayne West. He was put in charge of the album design, stage setting and marketing for West in 2002. In 2012, Abloh launched his own brand. He sold $40 t-shirts with his logo at $500. It was blurry whether it was a performance stunt or fashion. This is how Off-White, Abloh’s take on luxury fashion, kicked off.
Even my son came to know his name from his collaboration with Nike. The shoes were sold out as soon as they were released. A collaboration between high-end and low-end fashion took place before. But he adorned well-established low-fashion brand swith his unique hip style to draw a new identity. Young consumers were able to enjoy luxury brands at a reasonable price. Young generation camped out overnight to grab his sneakers. They were resold at higher price in the secondary market.
Abloh’s work caused a sensation thanks to his novel inspiration for Nike’s best-selling shoes. A regular shoelace became a fashion after writing “shoelace” on it. A Nike Air shoe became a rarity with “Air” imprinted on its side. Abloh used to say, “Fashion isn’t about the picture that’s painted. It’s about how clothing can re-enforce or destabilize prejudice.” He created fashion from an architect’s perspective. He had developed a new concept, but consumers would not have raved over Off-White clothes or others he made if they were not convinced by his ideas.
After he broke the sad news about Abloh, my son told me baffling news in Korea. “A science question on this year’s college entrance exam was found to be flawed, but nevertheless not wrong, according to authorities,” he said.
A question in the bioscience section in this year’s College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) had an unquestionable fallacy. The Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation Institute (KISE) admitted to its error but nevertheless stood by its answer for the cause of “distinguishing” smart students from not-so-smart students. The court disagreed and ordered all answers correct. The KISE justified its mistake by the strange argument on the need for its distinguishing role. The institute claims it also constitutes an ability to find the right answer from an erroneous question. It is pitiful to see adults refusing to admit they are wrong.
The KISE head resigned after the court ruled in favor of test-takers. The bigger fault of KISE than the erroneous exam is that it has forced students to take actions for themselves to challenge the question at court. The KISE chief was anti-intellectual and cowardly. If the court had not invalidated the question, students would have had to take the CSAT on the premise that the questions could be wrong. They must somehow catch the real intention of the question to find the right answer. Fortunately, the court did not lose its senses. But it is sad that children have to go to the court to correct what is wrong.
Those who loved the works of Abloh are a generation who seeks new concepts even if they do not have big money. The older generation advises the young to think differently. But when they do, they are scorned. Instead, they are told to read the design of the test administrators. But what is wrong is wrong. Admitting to it can be the beginning of a change.