Pro-Snowboarder Shaun White Talks About His Collaboration with the late Virgil Abloh, Whitespace, and the Olympics

The five-time Olympian tells VMAN in an exclusive interview about his friendship and collaboration with the late, great Virgil Abloh.

Shaun White, the G.O.A.T of snowboarding, is headed to his fifth (and final) Olympics in style. White was gifted a custom Louis Vuitton soft-shell snowboard case and matching guitar case by his friend, the late Virgil Abloh, just ahead of the Beijing Olympics. Abloh, a creative force in the fashion world, was famously passionate about action sports like snowboarding. “That’s how the relationship and all of this really got started,” says White. “It was kind of like this mutual appreciation for snowboarding.” 

The gift comes at a perfect time for White, who finally launched his own snowboarding company, Whitespace, with an extremely limited release earlier this month through exclusive retailer Backcountry, after getting advice from Abloh himself. The brand’s signature is an aptly placed white stripe down the base of their boards, an identifying feature to those in the know. Abloh fused that signature with Louis Vuitton’s signature monogram leather to create a one-of-a-kind, Whitespace x Louis Vuitton design.  

The cases reinterpret the classic Louis Vuitton hardside trunks into soft-shell forms, somewhat of a signature for Abloh. Six Louis Vuitton artisans from the Maison’s atelier in Marsaz, France, spent over 25 hours on the bags. Each piece required nearly 100 steps to assemble, and contain a newly developed red microfibre padding, a nod to the Olympic host country. The bags also feature American flag details on the luggage tags. 

“It’s just so cool to see it in person finally, and it’s so sad to know that Virgil didn’t get to see the finished product,” says White. “I’m just like, beyond thrilled to run this at the games and around in my life in his honor.” 

Shaun White with his custom bags.

This interview with White has been edited for context and clarity.  

VMAN: How did you meet Virgil?

SHAUN WHITE: We ran into each other at Mammoth snowboarding. I’d heard that he snowboarded, but I didn’t know that he was a fanatic. He was an incredibly nice guy, so enthusiastic about life and about snowboarding and was such a fun guy to be around. We stayed in touch, and then when I was thinking about launching my own snowboarding company I remember thinking, “wow, I’ve got this amazing friend and contact that’s like, a legend in the space of fashion, why don’t I reach out and get some advice?”  

VM: And how did this collaboration come about?

SW: Towards the end of the conversation, I mentioned like “hey, I don’t know the proper time to say it, but I love vintage luggage.” I’ve always dreamt of making a Louis Vuitton snowboarding case, like their trunks. Like I had kind of designed it in my head and whatnot. His response was “No effing way.” Then he started sending me imagery of things that he was already dealing with like holders for skateboard decks, and we just thought it could be perfect timing. Like, this could be my luggage heading into the Olympics. 

VM: Were you a big fan of Louis Vuitton and Virgil himself before this collaboration?

SW: Oh, of course. His stuff was such a breath of fresh air and sort of disruptive in that space. And obviously, his appreciation for action sports was pretty renowned within the community.

VM: I know you just got the bags earlier this week, did everything look and feel the way you expected?

SW: The team over there had been sending me imagery, certain things like checking how it’s all shaping up and asking what I was thinking. We definitely were still talking and working together even after Virgil’s passing. But yeah, I didn’t even put them away when I got home, I just set them out right in the living room. They’re just like on display. I think they’re so perfect. 

White with his custom Louis Vuitton bags and Whitespace snowboard.

VM: I know you had been thinking about creating your own brand for a while, and now the snowboard is out. What kickstarted the entire line?

SW: I remember being a kid thinking wow, Jake Burton is, like, Jake. Like he owns the company. He’s the father of the sport. I always thought about how amazing that would be if I could aspire to that, not just to be a rider, but to be doing my own company. When you’re sponsored, you’re trying to fit their mold the best you can but still be yourself a little bit. But when you start your own brand, you’re really kind of starting from scratch and thinking like, well let’s build the mold and steer the ship.  

VM: What was the process behind creating Whitespace?

SW: The process started when I won the last Olympics. After that, I was kind of out of contract and I started kind of floating with what I want to do next. At that time, my brother had a son and my sister had a daughter. Starting my own company was on the list of options, and it started to seem more enticing. I’m thinking, like, what if his son gets to ride my board? And what would my son or my daughter ride? 

VM: What was the thought process behind the name?

SW: Obviously, it’s my last name, but also the name whitespace is somewhat of a term in the industry for a gap in the market, like a blank canvas or opportunity. I love that meaning combined with the sport, because it’s one of the only sports in the world where you can create a new trick and be the best at it. It’s really all up to you to paint that canvas. 

White’s custom board case, horizon suitcase, and Whitespace board.

VM: Tell me a little bit about the snowboards.

SW: So, we have a series of three boards but, all the base graphics are the same. So like when you’re on the mountain and you see that white stripe, you can see it from a mile away and know what it is. It’s actually kind of made it difficult for me to get around the mountain because we launched the company and sold a super limited 50 boards, and now everybody comes running up to me like “how’d you get one of those boards?” 

VM: That’s when you just say “Oh I know I guy!”

SW: Yeah, it’s “oh well, I knew someone!” But that was the idea, the vision of the thing. Like, wow, we could start something and have this recognition on the resort. The goal in my mind is to one day see a bunch of kids, you know, bombing down the mountain with these white stripes on their bases. 

VM: It sounds like the name and the brand itself is also pretty fitting for this next chapter in your life, too.

SW: Yeah, it’s exciting. I’ve announced that this is my last Olympics, and I’m definitely enjoying the process of it all. The stress and the joy – it’s all wrapped up in one. But as one door closes with my competitive career, the excitement and the ability to work on a brand like this and to do incredible collaborations with legends like Virgil, and to hopefully inspire that next generation. I was gifted a snowboard when I was seven years old by Jake Burton, and look where that spark led to me being here today. 

White with his custom bags.

White will compete to defend his men’s halfpipe Gold in Beijing, with qualifications beginning on Thursday, Feb. 8. 

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