How Virgil Abloh & OFF-WHITE Put Luxury Streetwear On The Map
We explore how Virgil Abloh lead Off-White to the forefront of modern fashion & the continued growth of the Milan based luxury streetwear label.
From Pyrex Vision to Off-White, Virgil Abloh is a main stayer in the streetwear scene. Diagonal zebra stripes hoodies, yellow warning tape belt… Ring any bells? Whether or not you are keen to keep an eye on Off-White, it is difficult for you to overlook the salience of the luxury streetwear hybrid brand. Founded by American wunderkind Virgil Abloh, since 2012, the Milan-based label has opened showrooms in 15 locations around the world, taken part in numerous runway shows during fashion weeks and retained a star-studded line-up of customers. With a masters degree in architecture, who would have thought Abloh’s sharp turn to fashion could bring in such huge success? Under the garments, the multi-hyphenate’s unique vision has always been the key.
Before Abloh branched out with his new label, he formerly built a streetwear kingdom under the name Pyrex Vision, which many celebrities and fashionistas had embraced with open arms. However, as he later faced controversy regarding reusing and reselling Ralph Lauren’s flannels, at an astronomical price, after slapping the moniker of his own brand on them, he scrapped the company. Despite criticism, it wasn’t long until he eventually came back with his new ambition – Off-White.
Not only does he now own a brand, but the US entrepreneur is also involved in many other ventures, including founding the RSVP Gallery in Chicago and joining the #BEEN #TRILL crew. He is a DJ and a filmmaker who has previously directed a music video for rapper Lil Uzi Vert. And most of all, he is famously known as the creative director of rapper Kanye West’s company DONDA. Abloh is a major icon across the streetwear and music scene.
But what the artist does with the luxury streetwear brand, Off-White, plays a slightly different role than just defining what’s hip on the streets and otherwise. To be precise, he is cultivating a sort of avant-garde and cult apparel that merges the streetwear subculture with luxury fashion, like reaching a common ground between the two extremes. The brand name itself has an echoing take – it is defined as the grey colour zone in between black and white. The creative is experimenting with getting a classic silhouette to a fresh direction, something that caters the young millennial generation.
Besides breeding a new culture, he also puts a lot of effort into perfecting the Off-White experience. He sets the headquarter in Milan for the reason that he wants the collections to be made in Italy with an American streetwear aesthetic – best quality with an updated, modern approach. The combination of style and quality is the trademark of the brand.
Just as how we began this article by addressing some of the most remarkable designs of Off-White, it is these graphics and execution and the impression that they leave that place the hybrid brand at the forefront of the fashion scene now. Whenever we see the designs, Abloh comes to our mind. Obviously the zebra pattern, specifically known as diagonals spray, and the moniker ‘WHITE’ are synonymous to the brand. Nonetheless, speaking of signature items, the 200-meter long yellow and black Industrial Buckle Belt is utterly edgy and iconic as well. Its extended length has once been so confusing that Off-White eventually had to make a video guide on how it could be worn.
In more recent years, Abloh started putting everything in “quotes”. He inscribed “SHOELACES” on shoelaces, engraved “SCULPTURE” on the bag he collaborated with houseware giant IKEA, and even labelled his website “WEBSITE”. This is because Abloh believes that everything that leaves in the quotation mark remains to be indefinite, meaning there’s always rooms for questions. This concept very much goes in line with the ideology of the brand – giving people space to unleash their creativity.
The brand has successfully captured the streetwear scene because it has the street and people at its core. Off-White gives the freedom to the youth to style themselves instead of dictating who the wearer should be. In Abloh’s dictionary, the younger generation represents a new set of needs and styles. They demand autonomy in terms of what they want to wear and how they mix and match.
For example, in previous collections, Abloh has demonstrated how a typical workplace outfit, consisting of grey suit, white shirt and blue tie, can match with a pair of black with red stripes slippers. It conveys that there is no rule as of how any of his apparels should be worn. This is a deconstructive attitude and a question to traditions of the fashion industry, which is crucial to make the brand spectacular and outstanding.
In addition, although Abloh is the sole owner of his fashion label, he is seldom working alone to maintain excellent quality outputs. Throughout the years, his partnerships, with the likes of Levi’s and Nike, have kept the Milan label in the heart of streetwear. These collaborated projects more or less echo with the brand’s ethos again – paying homage to a classic silhouette with something aligned with Off-White’s very own aesthetic. We have seen Abloh using bolder colours, as well as refashioning Levi’s denims in a way that has created a wear-and-tear vibe in the Made & Crafted capsule.
The Nike “The Ten” collection from 2017 saw the artist deconstructs ten signature sneakers, including the Air Max 97 and the Air Jordan 1, re-stitched and re-worked for a nostalgic but fresh experience. The collaboration, unsurprisingly, has driven many sneakerheads to frustration because of its limited quantity. Many of the styles from the collection have become some of the most expensive styles on the sneaker resale market.
Abloh also continues to act as creative director for Louis Vuitton menswear, a move which has revived the luxury monogram print to a new younger street savvy consumer. You may have also seen the recent news that Virgil Abloh & his own luxury streetwear brand, Off-White, will be teaming up with Nike once again for 2021 with “The 20”. A collection of Nike Dunk’s in 20 different colourways. As usual expect sell out styles and high resale values.
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