Do you remember that image of a teary-eyed Kanye West hugging Virgil Abloh after his first runway show for Louis Vuitton Men? Who would have said twenty, or ten, or even five years ago, that these friends originally from Chicago would end up conquering the world of fashion by working for streetwear and luxury giants, on top of the many other projects they’re involved in. Chicago isn’t necessarily known for its influence in this industry, and yet still it has been the birthplace for two of the most influential people in fashion, as well as others who are close to reaching that status. However, how has Chicago become one of the most important incubators for creatives in the world?

What do Kanye West, Virgil Abloh and Jerry Lorenzo have in common? The three of them have worked in different industries but they have music in common. One of them is a rapper, the other one a DJ and the last one has been a party promoter; but they have also ended up creating three of the most influential streetwear brands of the moment: Yeezy, Off-White and Fear of God. And not only that, the three of them have lived and have become known in a city that isn’t especially known for its influence in fashion, and that is Chicago.

Kanye West & Virgil Abloh

It’s very clear that Chicago is this megalopolis that is known around the world, but it doesn’t really stand out in the field of fashion. Historically, it has been known as an industrial place as well as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States for its infamous South Side neighbourhood. It is said nobody ever gets out of the South Side, but Kanye would say otherwise. We all know the rapper’s story, but little do we know about the real impact of the Kanye phenomenon in Chicago. Thanks to him, Virgil took his first steps in music, and over time he would on most projects Kanye was involved in, under the role of ‘creative assistant’, which meant he was his right-hand man. And that is how Virgil went from being an architecture student to becoming a DJ and finally a creative director. That is because Kanye never forgets his origins, which is why a few months ago he joked about moving back to Chicago (or maybe he was serious about it, you never know with Kanye), and that is because he has faith in the unexplored talent of the young up-and-coming creatives of the city that have yet to be taken a chance on.

Jerry’s case might be a bit more special: his father was a professional baseball player, so he had a career cut out for himself in managing athletes, which is why he took up that profession. But the moment he listened to Kanye’s Jesus Walks song, whilst working as a sales clerk in Chicago, he decided to change the direction of his career in order to start doing what the had always dreamed of doing, which was being the owner of his own fashion line.

And aside from the world of fashion, or streetwear in general, or luxury specifically with Virgil, there are more creatives from Chicago whose careers have taken them far and who have decided to give back to their community. For example, Lena Waithe, who’s an actress, comedienne and creator of a show called The Chi that pays tribute to the South Side neighbourhood, or the well-known rapper and activist of one of the poorest areas in Chicago, Chance the Rapper. Now we’re just waiting to see which other creatives will come out of the so-called ‘second city’ that is actually second to none.

Lena Waithe
Jerry Lorenzo
Chance The Rapper