Before Virgil Abloh was famous he was an intern at Fendi with Kanye West

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Much has been said about Virgil Abloh in the week since his death. From his founding of the globally coveted Off-White brand to his appointment as artistic director of Louis Vuitton, there is no doubt that he left an incredible legacy despite being barely 41 years old. This story, however, is not about this guy. This story is about the Fendi intern who earns $ 700 a month making cappuccinos and photocopies with Kanye West, and how, to become the legend we recognize today as Virgil Abloh, he first had need a little patience.

Kanye West, who had previously enjoyed success in the hip world, was definitely not the 21st Grammy we recognize him today. Fresh out of the 808s & Heartbreak release the year before, Kanye was set to embark on a North American tour with Lady Gaga for what had been renamed Fame Kills: Starring Kanye West and Lady Gaga. This mega event reportedly saw two of contemporary music’s biggest stars make 34 stops across the world.

The stage was literally set. From the set design to the promotional photos taken by David LaChapelle, the tour was ready, including a promotional video with a somewhat prophetic slogan. “What happened to all the rock stars? Celebrity killed them! What would follow is Kanye West’s rather infamous moment at the MTV Music Awards, where he interrupted Taylor Swift during her Best Female Video Award acceptance speech, prompting Lady Gaga to cancel the entire tour. With that, ‘Ye was back to square one.



RELATED: Virgil Abloh sells 60% of his majority stake in Off-White to LVMH

The year before Kanye returned to the music industry with his magnum opus My beautiful twisted dark fantasy, he moved to Rome with the sole intention of making a place for himself in the fashion world. Kanye West’s first Yeezy collection won’t arrive until 2016 and this internship with Fendi has made it clear that he still has a ways to go until this point. For Kanye, who had made no secret of his admiration for Karl Lagerfield, the House of which Lagerfield was the creative director seemed to be the obvious place for West to begin his journey into the world of fashion.

Alongside Kanye you had Virgil Abloh, a young architecture graduate bursting with enthusiasm and ambition. Abloh had previously been active on the Chicago street fashion scene and was particularly close to Kanye through his work on the cover of 808 and heartache. With that, the pair left for Rome to their ungrateful new positions at Fendi.

Soon after, that was exactly what they were doing. In an interview with Hot 97, Kanye had described this period as a mundane experience that any intern could recognize: “going to work every day, walking to work and having cappuccinos”.

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In 2009, Fendi also went through its own period of transition that began a decade earlier, when Prada and LVMH joined forces to acquire 51% of the company and continued the slow and gradual recovery under the leadership of Bernard Arnault. Arnault’s leadership was also represented by then-CEO Michael Burke. Burke, a man with both Dior and Louis Vuitton experience, would eventually return to Louis Vuitton in 2012, paving the way for Virgil Abloh’s appointment as artistic director in 2018.

While Michael Burke apparently recognized Abloh’s brilliance in 2012, 3 years ago he was paying him US $ 500 (AU $ 700) per month to make his coffee. As Burke himself confirmed, “I paid them $ 500 a month! I was really impressed with the news they brought to the studio, it was disruptive in the best sense of the word.



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During their time as interns, the pair can be credited with the design of the leather jogging pants – ultimately a massive trend in 2013 – which was rejected by Fendi at the time. In fact, the best parts of their careers came much later. In an interview with Charlamagne Tha God, Kanye recalled the time spent in Rome with Virgil Abloh:

“There was nothing we could do, we were just happy to have a key card. We didn’t know how to make real clothes, we used a lot of photoshop but we didn’t make real clothes .

That being said, both Kanye West and Virgil Abloh have expressed deep nostalgia for this period of their careers at Fendi. The experience prompted Kanye to nickname Abloh “the fastest Photoshop artist” he has ever seen. Who can blame them? Being young and working with your best friend for people you admire in Rome – even if it involved a lot of menial tasks for little pay – is a pretty hard thing to fault.

Virgil Abloh Kanye West Fendi

After Fendi, Kanye did a few other fashion internships. He will then work with Giuseppe Zanotti on his collaboration with Balmain in 2016 and will even try to get a position of assistant to Raf Simons. He also launched the Pastelle brand, which involved Abloh, as well as signing a contract with Louis Vuitton for the creation of some sneakers. He even came close to signing an agreement with Arnault for the launch of the first season of his brand Yeezy.

For Virgil, he will assume the role of creative director of DONDA between 2012 and 2013, as well as the creation Pyrex Vision before launching Off-White. This created the way for Virgil to find Michael Burke at Louis Vuitton, this time in a slightly different capacity than his intern. Burke said he does not regret the loss of two golden talents from the House of Fendi, as their departure allowed them to produce their subsequent successes.

The experience at Fendi has been fundamental to the careers of both, shaping the ambitions and goals of West and Abloh. This story reflects the idea that the race for success is long. Stay patient and enjoy crappy jobs for what they are because there is a lot of time to be successful. As Virgil himself said, “everything I do is for the version of myself at 17”.


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