Once UW-Madison roommates, long-time Kanye West creative director and fashion designer Virgil Abloh and successful New York City restaurateur Gabriel Stulman drew students, faculty and community members Thursday evening to discuss their insights on college, careers and creative endeavors.
The pair lived together their freshman year in Ogg residence hall and have remained close over the years. Abloh studied engineering, while Stulman studied history and political science. Abloh and Stulman are back on campus, as Abloh recently put his creative spin on the 2015 UW Alumni Red Shirt design and Stulman has built a successful group of restaurants.
Both utilized their skills gained at UW-Madison in very different ways. Abloh went on to work with award winning hip-hop and fashion icon Kanye West as his creative director and then launched his own street fashion clothing line, Off-White. Stulman tried his hand in the restaurant business, building a portfolio of high-end, accomplished restaurants in New York City.
The experiences the two received from UW-Madison were at the forefront of Thursday’s conversation.
“It wasn’t an independent decision,” Abloh said on the choice to attend UW-Madison and study engineering, citing pressure from his father. However, Abloh made a distinct personal choice to grow creatively while at UW.
“If I’m going to figure out how to get this degree, I’m not going to have a boring, shitty time doing it. I’m going to learn in-between. I’m going to find something I’m passionate about, ” Abloh said, describing his aesthetic as “chill, rebellious vibes.”
Abloh also pointed to how skills in engineering and multi-tasking influenced his career in the arts. He described multi-tasking as the “biggest asset you can have in life … Most people tap out.”
Stulman described the communication skills and work ethic he cultivated in college as major factors to his achievements in the restaurant business.
“I read that book, I skimmed that, I skimmed that. You take out sections and sentences and paragraphs and you regurgitate that into your own ideas. I absolutely apply that on a daily basis … I got to take a lot of information and I have to make decisions. That is something I absolutely fine-tuned here,” Stulman said. “But I clearly don’t do shit with history.”
The young professionals also shared the successes and failures of their careers, while giving advice and hope to students who seek a successful career in the creative or entrepreneurial fields.
At the cornerstone of both speakers’ interests was the need to cultivate and grow young talent. Abloh described his personal motto as “the youth will always win,” a phrase seen throughout Off-White.
UW-Madison junior Savannah Bigelow said she was excited for the opportunity to meet the man behind the brand.
“I love Off-White, I think it’s a gorgeous brand. I love Virgil,” Bigelow said. “I read his write-up in Vogue and when I heard he was coming to Wisco and he went here I knew I had to come.”
The alumni ended the night with encouragement and optimism.
“Out of the whole campus, you guys came here just looking for something. I’m ending it by saying you have it. You have the ambition to take this time out of your day to go here, two random kids … So basically, in parting,” Abloh said, “Kill it.”