Virgil Abloh has faced numerous accusations of design plagiarism throughout his career, but none have been as vehement as the bars Walter Van Beirendonck dropped last week. The Belgian designer spoke out after Abloh ripped off one of his designs, calling him a "copycat" and saying, "It's very clear that Virgil Abloh is not a designer."
Now, in the midst of his so-called presidential run, Kanye West has come to the defense of his longtime friend and creative partner. West posted a series of tweets late last night, including one tagging an @WBeirendonck account that doesn't appear to be owned by Van Beirendonck. "Virgil can do whatever he wants," West tweeted. "Do you know how hard it’s been for us to be recognized? Coming from Chicago?"
From there, West turned to whataboutism with images of a Google search for African Cubism and the Wikipedia page for Pablo Picasso before moving on to tweeting about waterproof bags. So the crux of West's uncharacteristically short-winded rant is that Abloh can do whatever he wants because a). he's from Chicago and b). Picasso was influenced by African Cubism.
'Uuuuuum... now what ????' — That was what West tweeted along with the image of Picasso's Wikipedia page. The answer is to resume calling Abloh out for ripping off other designers. As Van Beirendonck himself said: "Copying is nothing new. It’s part of fashion. But not like this. Not on that level, with their budgets, their teams, their possibilities. That’s what is shocking to me."
Accusations of plagiarism against Abloh predate his post at Louis Vuitton. He's been called out at Off-White for a jacket seemingly culled from the much smaller label Gramm and Colrs and for taking a sunglass design from an aspiring designer. Even his Nike "The Ten collection, which is probably Abloh's most beloved production, has been marked with the allegation that it was stolen from a designer who interviewed for a job designing footwear at Off-White.
The controversy with Van Beirendonck involves a jacket with an oversized plush figure attached from last week's Louis Vuitton runway show. It was remarkably similar to a jacket from the SS16 collection for Van Beirendonck's namesake label, spurning yet another round of backlash for Abloh.
The 3-percent doctrine — Abloh hasn't exactly set himself up for denials of plagiarism with his stated "3 percent approach" to design. With it, he says he's tweaks existing creations by just 3 percent to create something "new." In many cases, it's hard to see what exactly has been changed by 3 percent and if it's enough to consider Abloh's work an original design.
Abloh responded directly to the criticism last year surrounding Gramm and Colrs. In a New Yorker profile, he denied ever seeing the jacket from the smaller brand and reduced it to "basically the use of a yellow fabric with a pattern on it." He then sarcastically said to "ring the alarm."
Once again, the bells are ringing — and it's getting harder and harder to defend Abloh. With his botched response to the Black Lives Matter protests and a lazy, possibly stolen design for Pop Smoke's posthumous album, it's not a great year for hypebeasts' favorite designer.
Kanye West, with all the credibility and goodwill he's lost, is not going to be the one to save him.