Virgil Abloh did it first. Per usual, ‘it’ means any number of things — first guy to make Converse and Nike procreate, first person of color to lead the artistic direction of Louis V, first Kanye protégé to not get totally fucked over by his mentor. But here, it means the first man to pull off the new American dream, the same one we chase across the Internet every week.
Abloh was to fashion as the future is to Web2. Think about it. The guy got famous for buying $50 deadstock flannels, screen printing a logo on them, and selling them for $500. For his hype driven, shamelessly derivative designs, he received criticism and praise in equal parts. And he transformed menswear from a professional necessity to a cultural phenomenon, just by believing the difference between an original design and a new one (as between the human race and our own ancestry) to be only 3%.
The DNA of Abloh’s approach to work and life is smeared all over the great Web3 experiment. The NFTs breaking sales records — like Abloh’s unfairly maligned album cover work — aren’t successful off the perceived quality of their artwork, but rather the hype they generate and the ideas they represent. In fact, popular collections are consistently, explicitly derivative. And the ‘right click save’ criticism — that any NFT could technically be owned by downloading or screenshotting it on OpenSea — gets reclaimed by crypto natives in the same way Abloh danced along the line between appropriation and inspiration.
In this day and age, once a design or concept enters the ether, it is anyone’s to use. Legal claims aside, it’d be insane to argue otherwise. We’ve seen it in fashion, art, music, memes. Even if you sue an artist for sampling your work, by the time anything comes of it, the ‘new design’ will already be out there, consumed by future creators, whose work might just sample it, too. We cut, carve, and remix the popular culture until it looks a little more like ourselves. It’s the nature of creation and it’s refreshing to see the world finally start to embrace it.
Virgil did first. He lived his life in the in between. His work represented the græy area between individuality and commonality, transparency and anonymity, black and white. He embodied the creator economy — a rockstar designer, a visionary copycat, and an artist who treated himself like a business. In the end we’re all working toward what he started: a world where you can make a living just by being you.