Abloh the Appropriator? Amid Virgil Abloh's Recent Runway Success Come Claims of Copycatting

Virgil Abloh speaks on stage at the WSJ. Magazine 2018 Innovator Awards Sponsored By Harry Winston, FlexJet & Barneys New York - Inside at MOMA on November 7, 2018 in New York City.
Virgil Abloh speaks on stage at the WSJ. Magazine 2018 Innovator Awards Sponsored By Harry Winston, FlexJet & Barneys New York - Inside at MOMA on November 7, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Bennett Raglin (Getty Images for WSJ. Magazine Innovators Awards)

Damn, damn, damn.

While we were still applauding the seemingly unstoppable force that is Virgil Abloh for bringing it “Home” with his Wiz-inspired second collection for Louis Vuitton, some very valid questions arose about the much-lauded designer’s inspirations. While fashion is nothing if not derivative—and plagiarism is nothing new at all—sadly, these allegations come from within the ranks of the black fashion community.


Model-turned-accessories designer Michelle Elie was the first to call out Abloh (this round), after Off-White’s Fall-Winter 2019-2020 collection titled “Public Television” premiered during Paris Fashion Week. Specifically, Elie accused Abloh of ripping off designs her son’s line COLRS sent down the runway for Lagos Fall-Winter Fashion Week 2018.

Crying, “FAKE FASHION,” Elie called the Fashion Police (otherwise known as Diet Prada), providing side-by-side comparisons of the designs in question. You can see them emerge on the Off-White runway at around the 8-minute mark. (And yes, that is Offset on Abloh’s runway.)

Frankly, we think both designers owe a healthy nod to Basquiat, but the evidence is indeed pretty damning, particularly the color schemes and shapes. Furthermore, once Diet Prada was on the case, they also identified another ripoff—of Manchester label Gramm, whose logo graphic was seemingly repurposed for Off-White’s. (Scroll through below.)



“It could be a coincidence, but Virgil has been known to swipe designs from the fans he meets, some of who happen to be young creatives themselves,” Diet Prada captioned their discoveries. “Interestingly enough, [designer of COLRS] @punkzec met Virgil prior to one of his presentations in Paris in 2017. Think they talked design?” they coyly added.

Again, yikes.

It’s an interesting and ironic twist on Abloh, who has admitted to suffering imposter syndrome as his profile in the fashion industry has not only grown, but exploded. Though he interned at Fendi alongside good friend Kanye, later helping to launch Ye’s now-defunct line Pastelle and later, Yeezy, Abloh’s ascension into the big leagues came via his own line, Off-White. His seemingly innovative, on-the-nose designs catapulted him into the fashion elite—and last year, secured him the bag as creative director of menswear for legacy French luxury house Louis Vuitton.


But is the pressure causing him to plagiarize?

Because how creative is Abloh, really? Aside from the obvious influences in his latest Off-White presentation, another fashion-watcher caught yet another direct rip from yet another black designer in last week’s presentation for Louis Vuitton—which might explain why we felt such a kinship with the collection. Since we regularly cover both designers, we’re kicking ourselves for not noticing it ourselves, but damn if the American flag scarf Abloh sent down the runway last week isn’t a grayscale version of the one Kerby Jean-Raymond designed for Pyer Moss in his “American, Also” Fall-Winter 2018-19 collection.


Virgil, baby. What is you doing? That’s the question this writer and fashion lover is asking, as I so desperately want all these black designers to win—but not by any means necessary, and certainly not by ripping each other off (particularly not for French fashion houses, Virgil).


But once again, we are reminded to beware false idols. Only time will tell if Abloh really has the goods to maintain legitimacy and longevity, but hopefully, he’s now fully aware that these fashion streets are watching.

Then again, maybe the joke’s been on us all along.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?



There’s a saying, “steal like an artist”. No one lives in a vacuum and it’s totally possible for someone to not even realise that an idea they thought was original was actually influenced or inspired by something they saw/heard. We need to stop fetishising originality because the vast majority of art plays off other people’s ideas/concepts, etc.

There’s another quote I love, “art is what you can get away with”.

When you look at the yellow designs, I agree both owe a lot to Basquiat, neither is really original. And maybe COLRS came up with it first but his yellow designs look like amateur hour, like a home ec project gone wrong, whereas Abloh’s take on the idea was better executed and the scrawling and lettering actually work. 

The stars and stripes scarf accusation is just bullshit, that shit has been done by dozens of designers, Pyer Moss’ scarf is already a copy of a copy. Plus, Abloh actually did something interesting with the design whereas Pyer Moss’ literal take on it looks like shit sold to tourists on NYC street corners.