Black Coffee On How His AMIRI Grammys Suit Pays Tribute to Virgil Abloh

REUTERS/Steve Marcus.

Last night’s 64th Annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas featured a few predictable nods: Olivia Rodrigo took home three awards (Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Pop Vocal Performance), and jazz crooner Tony Bennett brought home a jaw-dropping 20th Grammy. But it was talents like John Batiste, who swept five of the night’s categories, and the DJ Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo—best known as Black Coffee—whose Best Dance/Electronic Album win marks the first nomination for a South African in that category in Grammys history, that proved especially noteworthy. Black Coffee, accepted the award in a custom cream crystal-embellished AMIRI suit which, as he told the designer Mike Amiri, was an homage to his old friend and collaborator Virgil Abloh. Below, the DJ and the Amiri discuss the importance for an African artist of transcending the “World Music” category, being recognized by your industry peers, and the process of translating a song into a suit


MIKE AMIRI: Nathi, let’s talk about how we first met.

BLACK COFFEE: We first met on social media. Then one day, randomly, I visited the Chrome Hearts store on my way to the Miami airport. I see a guy standing next to the door on his phone, and then he walks over to me and says “Hi, what’s going on?” I assumed he maybe followed what I do, or had been at my show. We had a short conversation and both walked away. A few minutes later, I realized it was you! I sent you a DM immediately like, “Yo man, I actually didn’t realize that was you!” We laughed about it.

AMIRI: Why did you decide to work with me to design your Grammy suit?

BLACK COFFEE: I’ve been a big fan of AMIRI since before I met you, and then I became a fan of you as a human being, too. I love what you’re doing, and the direction you’re taking in the clothing industry. I love how free and unorthodox you are. What was your initial vision for this suit?

AMIRI: I wanted to create something clean, comfortable and contemporary, while also sophisticated enough for the Grammys red carpet. It’s cut in a signature AMIRI shape, and I added delicate crystal trim to elevate this neutral one-tone palette. Your music is so soulful and expansive, I saw the suit as representing that through design. We’d worked together in the past when you created my runway soundtrack, so we’re really aligned creatively. This was a great follow-up.

BLACK COFFEE: How did you approach this design process? 

AMIRI: A custom outfit must match the artist’s sensibility—they need to feel comfortable and empowered while wearing it. So, I listened to your music tried to attune that to my own vision. This look is intended to be like a visual song—the color is instrumentals, and the silhouette and embellishments are the grooves and hooks. If you could describe the final outfit in a sentence, what would it be?

BLACK COFFEE: It would be “AMIRI ft. Virgil Abloh.” I also saw it as a bridge. I was able to say to you, “Mike, I’m going to the Grammys, I want to wear custom AMIRI and I want to make sure it’s a tribute to Virgil, inspired by what he has done.” I knew Virgil for so many years, and admired what he was doing in the industry, and how he was also that guy who you could pick up the phone and call. For instance, I once called him and asked if we could do a special Off-White capsule collection for South Africa, and we did. It’s very rare to be able to call a massive designer and have them believe in your vision. That’s what you’re doing now. This suit was inspired by the look he wore at the Met Gala. Obviously, we discussed Virgil a lot while designing this suit—how do you feel his influence shines through with the final design?

AMIRI: Virgil was an incredible person and friend. You and I shared a few conversations about our relationships to him, and I knew you wanted your look to be a nod to his spirit. One of his signatures was angelic, beautifully tailored suiting with a modern twist. Who is your fashion icon?

BLACK COFFEE: I don’t think I have just one, I take different inspirations from different people. I like Pharrell’s taste in jewelry and his watches. I love Virgil for embracing every brand that he believed was doing something special. 

AMIRI: How has this Grammy nomination been for you? 

BLACK COFFEE: The nomination has been such a big deal for me—it’s definitely a career highlight, because I was intentional about getting to this level. This kind of recognition, on a global scale, is so rare for an artist from where I come from. We’re usually in the African/World music category, where we are competing against each other. When making this album, I knew who I wanted to work with and the kind of sound I was going for: to create something inspirational to the people of Africa, so they know that they can go this far. I am getting a Grammy nod—they’re saying “we see you,” and that means a lot to me.

AMIRI: If you win, how will you be celebrating?

BLACK COFFEE: Oh my gosh, if I win… I haven’t thought about that.  Every time my brain goes there, I low key have a heart attack. I’m scared to think about winning or losing because music is not about that. I think more than winning or losing, there is also a level of acknowledgment you want from your peers or the industry. You want them to know that you’re here and you can contribute on a bigger scale. That’s the win for me. But when I think about getting the actual award, I just panic. It’s a scary thought for me, so I don’t know how I would react if that were to happen.