For the second editorial of SS19 END. presents Open Source: a seasonal exploration of new-age multi-hyphenates and the purists that came before them. Shining a spotlight on essential luxury labels including Maison Margiela, Helmut Lang, Off-White, and Versace, Open Source explores the grey area between invention and reinvention, and poses the question: in a world where nothing is truly original, where does design begin and end?
During his 2018 'Cheat Codes' lecture at Harvard University, Virgil Abloh shared something that Henrik Most - a design leader at IKEA - said to him in the early stages of their collaboration. "We're at an age where design is just assumed," Henrik told Virgil. "You don't notice that a door handle doesn't work until it's broken. You forget that it has been designed."
Henrik's is the type of poignant observation that crashes through your mind like a wave, years of micro-interactions with long-ubiquitous products flashing in your mind's eye. Unscrewing a bottle top. Opening a waste bin with the touch of your foot. Tightening the buckle on your belt. All examples of undervalued design making subtle enhancements to our daily lives without a second thought. This revelation struck a chord with Abloh because it speaks directly to his own creative DNA. A signature style which has sparked an international conversation around the very nature of what constitutes design in the new millennium, his (in)famous '3% approach' asserting that in order to create something new and valuable, a designer need only edit something 3% from its original source.
During the course of his 70-minute lecture - now immortalised in print as part of Harvard's 'The Incidents' series from Sternberg Press - Virgil Abloh decodes decades of experience in inter-disciplinary design, smashing through industry perceptions and esoteric notions of what is and isn't legitimate. Holding fast to his streetwear origins, Virgil says everything the tenured teaching staff are too afraid to say: forget about perfection, it will slow you down; give up on being wholly original, it's a myth; we are all cumulative expressions of everything and everyone who has come before us, embrace it.
It's this unique perspective and the transparency with which he shares it which has seen Virgil Abloh transcend definition to morph into a standalone concept. A divisive push and pull between old and new age design ideas, the concept of Abloh has emerged as a volatile fault line struck through the heart of the fashion industry. His most prophetic detractors labelling him 'hack' and 'fraud' at every opportunity. But Virgil is no hack, he's simply playing by a new set of rules. Far from a fraud, Virgil is just honest about the nature of design in the digital age. After all, doesn't everything have a source? Sampling has been a defining fixture of the music industry for decades, and yet the acceptance of the same concept into other artforms has been met with scepticism at best.
The emergence of the creative director as the ultimate millennial aspiration has been its own issue of debate in the fashion sphere. Stepping away from simpler times when design houses were helmed by 'the designer', the need for one unified voice - from product output to store atmospherics to what appears on a brand's Instagram feed - has seeped into a system which is famously reticent to fundamental change. Almost obnoxiously vague, the concept of the creative director is hazy and undefined. It is fluid by design, future-proofed to provide a house with a last-word autocrat who oversees every creative decision taken and every product released, and whose authority spans new platforms and communication channels that haven't even been invented. And yet the only way the endless migration of creative directors from one house to the next works is because much of design has become open source. Creative directors can explore the archives of a house and stand upon the shoulders of those that came before them. They can rework classic styles and silhouettes to make contemporary iterations of chapters from the past. They can curate and cut-and-paste like never before.
A defining voice in 90s luxury, Helmut Lang retired from fashion nearly 15 years ago, and yet his name still remains very much a part of the luxury conversation. Testament to the monumental transference of ideas which are as relevant now as when Lang retired in 2005, the spirit of Helmut Lang lives on through the label's output today. Each new designer tasked with producing collections for the label is tapping the source code to create a new interpretation of the Helmut Lang aesthetic. Moncler Genius is another timely example of open-source design, with the Franco-Italian outwear specialists opening the label's source code to a roster of global designers and inviting each to imbibe a personal capsule collection with the spirit of Moncler. This season Dior shares its voice with Kaws. Last season Heron Preston with Carhartt. Each opening the door to the other in the pursuit of saying something new.
In our interview with London-based artist, Blondey McCoy, we spoke about themes of plagiarism and originality; of tracing things back to their origins and deciding where the line is drawn between what is and isn't acceptable. "Art comes from other art," Blondey said without hesitation. "Nothing falls out of the sky." A distinctive voice in the open source design movement, who's comfortability fusing his own ideas with longstanding aesthetics and brand guidelines has led him to collaborate with institutions including NASA and the DSNY, Heron Preston revealed to us over Instagram that one of his current past-times is buying bootleg Heron Preston merchandise on the black market. Preston then customises these counterfeit goods by hand - in doing so, turning the products back into legitimate Heron Preston pieces - and then sells them back into the marketplace. Lines are blurring, codes are changing, and innovation is no longer the cost of entry. Maison Margiela's 'Stereotype' line celebrates iconic fashion silhouettes, offering Margiela's interpretation of the hoody or coach jacket each season without feeling required to reinvent what's already a deserved staple of global style. Virgil Abloh's 'The Ten' collaboration was announced as 'the reconstruction of 10 Nike icons'; each recognisable as famous footwear silhouettes, yet undeniably transformed into something we hadn't seen before.
In the end, this brings us back to Henrik's notion of living in an age of expected design. We're so used to seeing iconic sneaker silhouettes and classic coats that we forget that they've been designed. We forget that every seam, button, and trim has been carefully placed. That even the most ubiquitous styles are sampled and resampled until they're right. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle edit - a new graphic, a hood, an inch given or taken - to remind us why they became classics to begin with.
Design is a code, know your source.