Spot the Difference

Meet the designer behind the first-ever Limited Edition of The Red Shirt™

Earlier this week, we announced that The Red Shirt™ will be getting a makeover with its first celebrity-designer collaboration. We’ve been dropping hints about the identity of the mystery designer on Instagram, and without further ado, allow us to introduce The Red Shirt™, Limited Edition by Virgil Abloh ’03.

While he has many artistic interests, Abloh is most widely recognized for his fashion label, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh. Surprisingly, his creative success traces back to UW-Madison’s Engineering Hall, where Abloh studied civil engineering. It wasn’t until he had to fill a humanities credit that he discovered his interest in art. “The Elvehjem Museum was, like, my safe haven,” Abloh recalls.

Self-discovery aside, the problem-solving he learned in the College of Engineering is still pertinent to his career today. “That’s where I learned to multitask,” he says. “I approach my career in that way.”

For the first time in a while, Abloh will be returning to campus this October. He’ll be giving a RED Talk during Homecoming week, alongside former roommate and Forward under 40 Award winner Gabriel Stulman ’03. While Abloh calls UW-Madison “the perfect place to go to school,” he admits that he had a different kind of student experience.

“[Gabriel and I] were the kids that stuck out like a sore thumb. Walking down State Street, like, we thought we were the [stuff],” he recalls. He and his friends shopped at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, threw dinner parties, and went to the Capitol Square bars instead of the standard campus hangouts. “We were trying to live the most sophisticated, young lifestyle possible.”

Abloh graduated from the UW in 2003, and he went on to obtain his master’s in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. From there, he says, it was an easy transition into fashion and art. After working at an architecture firm for a few years, he also started his own line, Off-White.

Red to Off-White

With Off-White, Abloh aims to blend streetwear with high fashion by adding “layers of sophistication to it, and bolster up the reason why it’s important for now.” The now that Abloh speaks of is the root of his label. He creates things that are both culturally influenced and influential and he’s done a pretty solid job of it: —Beyoncé frequently dons his designs, including in her music video “Feeling Myself, co-starring Nicki Minaj. And, really, how much more now can you get than Beyoncé and Nicki?

If you’ve seen Queen Bey’s video, you’ll remember her palm tree–printed jacket with NEBRASKA printed across the front. Yup — that’s an Off-White original, and a staple design element for Abloh’s clothing line. Wait, Nebraska? Without knocking fellow Big Ten schools too much, Abloh said he was looking to represent the collegiate spirit of America with a word that evokes “the middle of nowhere.”

“Me, as a designer, the obvious thing would be to do Wisconsin,” Abloh explains of his Nebraska designs. “The obvious leaves no room for someone to ask the question.” But when the opportunity came along to collaborate on a limited edition of The Red Shirt, he said it was an immediate “yes.”

Abloh didn’t design just one shirt, but a series of three — cleverly themed #OffWisconsin. Each shirt has a slightly different design element. “A few different options,” he explains, “that sort of say one thing.”

The designs may say one thing, but the shirts mean much more. As always, proceeds from sales will go toward student scholarships, including a special scholarship fund created by Abloh.

The Red Shirt, Limited Edition by Virgil Abloh will go on sale October 12. The University Book Store will carry an exclusive supply in-store, and online sales will be available only through October 30. For more information, visit uwalumni.com/theredshirt.