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Respect the Architects
A look at Virgil Abloh's legacy in action at Nike.
It’s been a year since the world lost Virgil Abloh, and the various aspects of art, fashion, and culture that he touched are still unpacking his legacy. His widow, Shannon Abloh, recently spoke at length to The New York Times about stepping into the forefront to ensure the purity of her late husband’s vision stays intact, and that his family and estate continues to have an impact on his legacy.
“Even though we knew the challenge of what he was fighting, it went a lot faster than we thought it was going to,” says Abloh in the NYT article. “So we never had the ‘this is the legacy that I want you to work toward’ discussion. But because I was with him for so long, I knew every inch of him. I knew every inch of his brain.”
One of the first things Shannon Abloh did was establish Virgil Abloh Securities, a multi-disciplinary creative company dedicated to spreading Abloh’s “ethos and essence globally.” That included a concept shop at Nordstrom tied to the “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and continues with a series of activations at Miami Art Week. There was a day-long symposium called “A Convening for Virgil Abloh” at Design Miami/, and an exhibit at the Rubell Museum called “Virgil Abloh: The Codes c/o Architecture,” featuring a look at Virgil Abloh’s work with Nike.
The rather extensive Virgil Abloh-verse contains so many offshoots and collaborative agencies unto itself, but Architecture has always been one of the most significant. It’s essentially a joint venture with Nike that allowed Abloh to create a pocket universe within the infrastructure of Nike.
Two of its most prolific creatives are Chloe Wayne Sultan and Mahfuz Sultan, the husband-and-wife team behind multi-disciplinary agency Clocks and filmmakers behind V, the Vogue documentary that brought together some of Virgil Abloh’s closest friends and creative partners to reflect on the outsize impact he’s had on them.
Their personal ties to the Abloh family run deep. According to Vogue, they met Virgil Abloh separately in New York—while Chloe was working on a Yoko Ono exhibition at the MoMA, and Mahfuz was about to begin studying architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. What eventually became the joint Architecture project kicked off in 2020 with the launch of Sub Eleven Seconds, a documentary about runner Sha'Carri Richardson shot by Bafic.
The precursor to Architecure was Public Domain, first revealed to the world in October 2020 for the launch of Virgil Abloh’s Rubber Dunk. Abloh announced the project in an Instagram post, captioning it: “as a kid it was always the @nike ads that got me hooked. fast-forward to ©2020 i re-wired all my Nike contracts to build a Black-lead creative direction team titled “Public Domain” @public____domain to make more than the shoes. it outputs ephemera and is equally a platform to educate on our process.”
The first campaign was shot by Atiba Jefferson and features Nike athletes Michael Norman, Vashti Cunningham, Kerron Clement, and Brittney Reese. It was followed up with a campaign for the Asia-exclusive “Olympic Gold” colorway shot by Avenue & Son. That colorway was an homage to the pair famously worn by runner Michael Johnson during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
One of the best projects launched by Public Domain is its website that effectively functions as a Virgil Abloh x Nike archive. It largely serves as the inspiration for the Rubell Museum exhibit, which includes four Apple computers pre-loaded with Adobe Suite and the same rich visual assets available on Public Domain’s site, designed after a desktop purportedly modeled after one of Abloh’s personal hard drives.
That spirit of open source creativity applies in how the exhibit is laid out, as well as its very name “The Codes,” a nod to Virgil Abloh’s willingness to give creative minds everywhere the “cheat codes” to his success. Ever self-referential, the meta attitude of Abloh’s practice also influenced the campaign for his posthumously released Air Force 1 Mid shoes, now watermarked with the ARCH Swoosh logo of Architecture.
Shot at the Seattle Central Library, the building was opened in 2004 and designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA/LMN, a literal nod to the otherwise cheeky “Architecture” name. Abloh studied the work of Koolhaas while in school, and eventually went on to become a frequent collaborator with his Office of Metropolitan Architecture.
Despite being a trained architect, it’s fitting that Abloh’s legacy at Nike is housed under the term “Architecture.” Not only does it nod to the irony that characterized a lot of his work, but there’s also the fact that another one of Nike’s most prolific sneaker designers—Tinker Hatfield—also got his start as an architect.
It also speaks to how sneaker designs and Nike’s shoe silhouettes have become as highly regarded for their designs as much as certain buildings. It reflects the notion that beyond the hype, a great sneaker can also become an object made with a sense of permanence, the kind of thing you don’t get tired of looking at day after day.