""Virgil & I""

On departed mentors.

""Virgil & I""

Not many people know that Virgil Abloh was my mentor.

Still is.

When they find out, people ask me how I persuaded him. Here's my secret: I didn't. Your mentors don't have to be alive, they don't have to like you, they don't even have to know you exist.

(I'm not saying those things aren't useful. Just... not always.)

I remember Virgil saying to me once (on Youtube) that you can have a mentor who's anyone. You can have older mentors, professionals, friends, strangers, mentors who are younger than you. Dead mentors, too. Think of the greats — you seriously don't want Caravaggio in your head? Da Vinci, Plath? You have nothing to learn from Sappho, Borges, Michelangelo? Everything we make takes place within a great continuum of talent. Irrespective of your practice you build on the work of others.

This is in Virgil's tradition of course — his mentors include the living and the dead... Le Corbusier, Duchamp, Margiela, Rem Koolhaas.

What matters is making those connections and making the most of them.

Education doesn't really exist, I don't think — deep down all knowledge is self-taught. The desire to learn is a start, but to become a half-decent mentee I had to discard my preconceptions and ego. Be open and receptive to total inversions of my own logic; different frames that might gradually let me see the world through their eyes.

I'd never really applied the concept of readymade until I heard Virgil explain his perspective on Duchamp, and Helvetica and the stripes and the "quotes" and all of that; I didn't fully get the play of absence and deconstruction until I followed the threads to the blank labels of Martin Margiela. Just as I couldn't think about post-AI writing in a way that was imaginative and fresh until my time spent with a bunch of polygender ketamine kids, who inspired in me the idea that writing is really performance. You have to absorb unexpected new flavours.

Even with my living mentors, we can go for long periods without speaking. Sometimes I'll just pose questions and imagine their answers, never even needing to ask them. So when we meet, our conversations are more nuanced and precise. (Until eventually they just laugh at me.)

I believe information and advice is only semi-useful from a mentor.

What you really want to learn is their attitude, their way of seeing reality. Spending time together is a dream, even if no amount of magic can survive the everyday. But you can learn from afar too, across time and space, drawing energy from their public body of thoughts and work.

It was Virgil who taught me: if you find the work you love and really try to understand the ethos of its creator, you can understand their process. What they saw, what they felt. Truly inhabiting this process is what rewires your brain... you can see yourself in it, as them, then take the next step as one that is original and yours.

Instead of just learning from mentors, you integrate them.

Their perspective, their way of seeing – their talent, even.

You're transformed.