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Chicago-born luxury fashion designer Virgil Abloh, 39, is under fire following a series of controversial Instagram posts made amid global Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd while in police custody.
Abloh shared a screenshot of his receipt for a $50 donation to a bail fund set up by (F)empower, a Miami-based queer creative collective, to provide monetary and legal aid for arrested protesters.
Critics, most of whom were black, noted that the donation seemed small given that Abloh runs one of the buzziest brands in fashion, Off-White, in addition to holding a powerful position at Louis Vuitton.
Abloh also faced criticism for his commentary on the looting of stores owned by friends and fellow sneakerheads Don C and Sean Wotherspoon.
Virgil Abloh — the most prolific and visible black designer in fashion today — found himself at the center of internet controversy after posting a screenshot of his $50 donation to a community bond fund for arrested protesters in Miami, Florida on Sunday.
"the Miami community, im crazy inspired," Abloh captioned the donation receipt on his Instagram story, adding "for kids in the streets that need a bail funds for George Floyd protests. matching the local energy."
—Yuri’ san (@plugyuri) June 1, 2020
—🧛🏿♂️LUTHER VANDALS🎤 (@PapiGrego) June 1, 2020
The backlash stems, in part, from the size of Abloh's donation given his assumed-to-be outsized wealth. Abloh holds two powerful positions in fashion, serving as the artistic director at Louis Vuitton and CEO of the buzziest brand in fashion, Off-White.
"I can't believe I donated more money than virgil abloh and I'm the one that's unemployed," user @Disgabilondon tweeted in response to the news.
As many noted online, $50 would be insufficient to buy nearly anything from Off-White or Louis Vuitton, even on sale.
—Peter Xinping 只有前进！🌏🦍 (@PeterXinping) June 1, 2020
—Ourfa Zinali (@ourfazinali) June 1, 2020
Posting donation receipts online and participating in social media "chain" campaigns are becoming popular ways for celebrities, influencers, and ordinary people to secure donation matches and encourage those in their network to funnel money and resources toward the Black Lives Matter movement. In Abloh's original post, he tagged five friends, including Travis Scott's creative director Corey Damon Black and celebrity talent manager Jake Jefferson.
At the time, it was unclear whether Abloh had made additional, private donations to support the Black Lives Matter Movement before or after sharing the (F)empower donation receipt on Sunday.
—Duckie Thot (@duckie_thot) June 1, 2020
—Mako ✨ (@MakoNjeri) June 1, 2020
For many, though, the $50 donation "flex" wasn't as big an issue as the designer's response to the looting of shops owned by his friends. In a clip shared to Instagram on Sunday, Round Two Hollywood owner Sean Wotherspoon documented the damage done to his shop after a break-in. Beneath the video, Abloh commented: "This is fucked up. You see the passion blood sweat and tears Sean puts in for our culture. This disgusts me."
—Ira Madison III (@ira) June 1, 2020
In an unrelated comment left by Wotherspoon on the post, the sneaker designer, collector, and shop owner made it clear that his first concern was not for himself.
"I can't stress enough, our shops are not what you should be worried about…" Wotherspoon wrote. "We need our world to change, people should all be treated equal."
Abloh, too, clarified in a series of subsequent Instagram story posts that his "disgust" over the desecration of Round Two had nothing to do with stolen merchandise, but rather the looting as a symbolic attack on streetwear as a community. Abloh has asserted his belief that "streetwear is dead" in interviews before.
"case & point #81 why I said 'streetwear' is dead," Abloh wrote, sharing Wotherspoon's video with his followers.
"Streetwear is a community," Abloh wrote. "It's groups of friends that have a common bond. We hang out on street corners, fight with each other, fight for each other."
"Streetwear is a group of friends that I'm surely was like, 'C'mon guys, this is Sean's store, we can't treat him, like this, we know Sean...,'" he continued. "Streetwear is a culture. 'Streetwear' is a commodity."
In a follow-up post, Abloh added: "in no instance of me using the word Streetwear did I mention a shoe, t-shirt, or hoodie."
The same day, Abloh amplified an Instagram post from RSVP Gallery owner and streetwear designer Don Crawley, also known as Don C. Alongside images of his raided store, Crawley wrote: "I understand people are hurt so if stealing merch will ease the pain I can sacrifice that...But, if you are not sincerely protesting and using this as an opportunity you will be 3rd degree manslaughtered as soon as the glass is broken tonight!"
Many felt Crawley's commentary on the looting of his shop vilified black people.
—Lin (@LindseyMachelle) June 1, 2020
On Monday, Abloh sent a lengthy statement "clarifying his posts and record" to the New York Times, then rescinded it prior to publication. Instead, he took to his Notes app to pen an expansive apology to his followers. In the post, Abloh elaborated on his lived experience as a black man and an immigrant, who has "felt anger, sadness, and pain every time one of us is held victim of prejudice or systemic racism."
"let me start with a few central facts," he wrote. "i am a black man. a dark black man. like dark-dark."
He continued: "i also know that this isn't just about race. my parents immigrated from Ghana with zero dollars to their name...i know that black people with fewer resources and less access to the privileges that I have are much more vulnerable than me."
Abloh then corrected his comments on looting.
"as many have said, buildings are brick and mortar and material things can be replaced, people can't," he wrote. "black lives matter. in this moment, those other things don't. people who criticize 'looting' often do so as a way to make it seem like our fight against injustice isn't legitimate. i did not realize the ways my comments accidentally contributed to that narrative. as mentioned yesterday, if looting eases pain and furthers the overall mission, it is within good standing with me."
Abloh also set the record straight on his donations, saying he's given $20,500 to "bail funds and other causes related to" the Black Lives Matter movement.
"the donation I posted last night was in solidarity with a group of Miami friends chain-posting about coming together for their local community. I can understand your frustration if you think my contribution were limited to $50. purely false when it comes to the total. i have donated $20,500 to bail funds and other causes related to this movement. i will continue to donate more and will continue to use my voice to urge my peers to do the same."
—virgil abloh (@virgilabloh) June 1, 2020
Still, a few lines in Abloh's apology are drawing Twitter's ire. In particular, several t0ok issue with Abloh's explanation as to why he chose not to share the rest of his donations online.
"i was on the fence about publicizing total dollar amounts because i didn't want to look like i'm glorifying only higher amounts or that i want to be applauded for it," he wrote.
—Drinka Champagne (@tinnkky) June 1, 2020
—Joe Budden (@JoeBudden) June 1, 2020
Another point of contention was Abloh's decision to preface the essay with a reminder that, he is black, too.
"Has Virgil Abloh really just pulled the black card on us?" user @giginxv1 wondered.
—giginxv (@giginxv1) June 1, 2020
Abloh ended the essay by reiterating his commitment to working as "an agent of change."
"when you see me in any space, city, museum, restaurant, on the bench of the Mercer, in Italy at Bar Basso, in Pigalle in the line at Dumbo, in LA on Faifax or at the end of a runway show in Paris know that i'm carrying the flag to redefine the box that we as black people have been put in. i lead with love and move with respect to everyone i ever met."
That didn't stop Twitter from turning his first name into a running joke, though.
—CA$$O 🌊 (new account) (@PLEIGHCASSO) June 2, 2020
—Danny (@ohthatsjusdanny) June 2, 2020
—Blue 🦇 (@darkblue_999) June 2, 2020
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