Off-White. Virgil Abloh. These are not foreign terms for the passionate connoisseur and consumer of high-end fashion, but for those who might have missed the hype, here’s a simple guide to the hottest fashion brand in the world right now.
OFF-WHITE, “THE GRAY AREA BETWEEN BLACK AND WHITE”
Since being unveiled in 2013, Milan-based luxury fashion label Off White has been playing in two fields: luxury designer and streetwear fashion. The brand is known for its bold pop culture quotation marks (“Shoelaces”, “Scarf”, “Little Black Dress”), crisscrossed logo arrows, transparent see-through suitcases, industrial belts, and red zip ties. Off-White’s trademark is simple, direct, young, and transparent. Perhaps that’s why more than 1.3 million people visit the Off-white site each month. Consumers’ thirst for the line keeps growing, even after all these years.
A HOTSPOT FOR ALL THINGS ‘DOPE’
With 10 million followers on Instagram, consumer engagement is high and growing at a rapid pace. The brand’s iconic handcrafted DIY print, strong lines and bold statements appeal with customers across all segments. The message is clear, Off-white is synonymous with cool... Expectations are met and needs are fulfilled. From Marc Jacobs to Rihanna, to Julia Roberts, and the Kardashians... everyone wants to be part of Abloh’s empire.
But Off-White’s allure is not only limited to celebrities in the upper spheres. Today’s teens and Millennials are also included in the list of beloved Off-White customers. New York and Milan’s fashion forward youth more often than not, are captured wearing Off-White statement pieces.
VIRGIL ABLOH, THE CREATIVE MASTERMIND
Just like Off-White’s diverse fashion apparel, Abloh is a multifaceted individual who over the years has accumulated an impressive list of achievements.
BEGINNINGS, THE EMERGING DESIGNER
Abloh was born in Illinois (USA) to Ghanaian parents in 1980. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in Civil Engineering and later completed his Master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Despite his academic achievements, Abloh kept delving more and more into the fashion industry - spending his time experimenting with t-shirts rather than buildings. His growing interest in the fashion industry became a reality after he met Kanye West in 2002, when the then architect worked at a screen printing store.
The two soon started a collaborative relationship. Abloh was named West’s creative director / art advisor, and was tasked with helping the rapper realise everything outside the world of music. Merchandise, album covers, stage sets, Yeezy...you name it.
FASHION IS THE FUTURE. INTERNING WITH KANYE?
Abloh’s debut in the fashion world came in 2009, as an intern at Fendi’s offices in Rome (Italy), working alongside, of all people, Kanye West. Like most interns, they were assigned to work the regular nine to five, photocopy, and fetch cappuccinos - for $500 a month. Funny to think Kanye was already a Grammy-winning artist, but this time at Fendi provides some insight into the path required for success in fashion. Abloh would go on to assume the role of creative director at Donda, West’s agency, in 2010.
In 2012, Abloh embarked on his first solo effort, launching what he considered an “art experiment” clothing line called Pyrex Vision. Renaissance artwork, bold lettering and Michael Jordan’s 23 were slapped onto basketball shorts, Champion t-shirts and flannel shirts, alongside a $500+ price tag.
Pyrex closed a year after, but the project paved the path for the creation of Off-White, which officially emerged in 2013, with the backing of Italian luxury fashion accelerator - New Guards Group. As part of NGG, Off-white joined the ranks of Marcelo Burlon, Palm Angels, Heron Preston and other leading designers, providing the perfect starting point for future success.
ABLOH TODAY. STREET STYLE ICON
Who is Virgil Abloh? The Founder and CEO of Off-White, but also Kanye West’s art director, a DJ under Flat White, and half of the musical duo Paris IL - all, with a personal archive (Canary Yellow) to top it off.
In 2018, Abloh landed one of the most sought-after positions in the men’s fashion industry. He was named artistic director for Louis Vuitton menswear - becoming the first African American director for the European house. Since his appointment, the French house has taken a new turn. Carefully deconstructed tailored looks in solid colours mixed with handcrafted patterns, fluro logos over Louis Vuitton's iconic print, classic contemporary with a modern streetwear influence. Virgil’s styling is clear and has led to a resurgence and young reimagination of the French fashion house.
OFF-WHITE x COLLABORATIONS
So, why has Off-white risen to the top so quickly? Off-White is the hottest brand at the moment, According to The Lyst Brand Index for 2019, ranking before big fashion names like Balenciaga, Gucci and Versace. The brand is not new to the market, but it is only in recent years that popularity surged. After all, who could forget Off-White’s S/S menswear 2019 collection - models wearing Futura spray-painted prints in clothes made of recycled plastic, to a set full of white carnations? Or Kanye West himself tearing it up at Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton’s menswear show in 2018?
There are perhaps two defining events in Off-White’s history that we can point to. Both of which show the strength in collaboration, and provide a lesson for new and emerging designers.
NIKE x OFF-WHITE
Travel back to 2017, the world was a different place, but I’m sure a lot of people will remember “The Ten”, Off-whites partnership with Nike to redesign 10 of the brands classic sneakers. Abloh deconstructed each shoe to its basic silhouette with an X-ACTO knife. Signature Off-White features were then added:
- A red zip tie with details of name, date, and collaboration
- Bold lettered print on the outside with the shoe’s main material (“AIR” or “FOAM)
- “Shoelaces” lettering on the shoelaces
- "Beaverton, Oregon USA” and "C. 2017” lettering with the design location
To say it was a worldwide sensation is selling the success short. The shoes sold out instantly and were then resold for up to 10 times the original price. The Abloh-designed Air Presto released in 2018 was mentioned more than 250,000 times on social media platforms. Only a lucky few managed to buy them when they dropped, and now they are selling for more than 4x retail price on StockX at >$2,000 a pair. For many, it was the “Collaboration of the Year”. The media and commercial success transformed this ‘first take’ into an ongoing collaboration, with Off-white x Nike collabs still present today.
IKEA x VIRGIL ABLOH
Skip forward to 2019, and the next huge collaboration is with… IKEA…
Yes, the Swedish furniture giant released a collection of everyday homeware items called “MARKERAD” (‘marked’ in Swedish), with the help of Virgil’s design work. The partnership followed Abloh’s bias towards DIY craft applied to classic items, creating in his words “(something) unique, and distinctly as much of Off-White as it’s IKEA”. For the homeware line, Abloh took inspiration from young people’s first homes and their needs. Products reflect Abloh’s take on contemporary living, targeted towards those wanting to freshen things up at home with transformed ordinary pieces.
This was not Ikea’s first collaboration, but it was their first with Abloh (and like first of many given the success)
After taking a break from fashion on doctor’s orders, Abloh has returned to the arena to show how he can still appeal to the masses. Off-White’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection is a plethora of printed oversized hoodies, signature industrial belts, crisscross arrowed sneakers, as well as tailored shirts, faded jean jackets and classic blazers. Under the spotlights of Palais des Sports Marcel-Cerdan, the designer presented Off-White’s Fall/Winter 2020 womenswear collection during Paris Fashion week. A 90s inspired collection shone against a stage littered by half-cut Mercedes placed in vertical and horizontal positions. While the staging was exciting enough, what really really made headlines was the female Hadid trio - mother Yolanda and model daughters Gigi and Bella. Having won the press’ attention, Abloh set his appropriately called “Slightly Off”, collection free. Asymmetric cuts, graffiti paints, houndstooth patterns, ruffles and low cut tops littered the runway in classic black and white colours, but also Egyptian blues.
Virgil has also continued with recent collaborations, including:
- Canadian high-end outdoor clothing label Arc’teryx - creating an assortment of hybrid cross-sector looks, a trend marking the entry of outdoor apparel into the world of luxury fashion; and
- Another highly anticipated collaboration with Nike to debuted the new Air Jordan IV
WHAT CAN EMERGING AND INDEPENDENT DESIGNERS LEARN FROM VIRGIL ABLOH?
In 2018, Time magazine named Abloh one of the 100 most influential people in the world. For a man who does not call himself a designer, but a “maker”, he sure is good at designing things. Whether clothes, furniture, or footwear, he always hits the mark. Unlike other high end designers, Abloh doesn’t have the fashion background nor the training, but perhaps that is the secret to his success. He has learnt to use the tools at his disposal to their full capacity, and then apply them to his work, in his own way. He stays true to his message and vision, whether working for his own brand or in collaboration with others. His style is constant yet fluid, adapting to the engagement but always immediately recognisable. His unconventional beginnings did not impede his success in this industry, and he has undoubtedly shown the value in hard work and perseverance. Abloh keeps showing time and time again that there is not a correct way to do things. Sometimes you just need a different point of view.
by Carlota Pano