OFF WHITE & Virgil Abloh: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

June 11, 2019 12 min read

 

Written by Brian Benza

Founded by Virgil Abloh in September 2013, OFF-WHITE was declared the third hottest brand of 2017 hence moving a whopping 31 spots up, from 34th to third. With BALENCIAGA in 1st place and GUCCI dropping to 2nd place. This statistic alone says a lot about how OFF-WHITE has evolved over the years, it has progressively changed for the better in several aspects that I’m yet to mention in the post. This post will go in depth on the past (how OFF-WHITE was birthed), present (the current state of OFF-WHITE) and future (the possible position of OFF-WHITE in the fashion industry) in a few years to come.

Virgil Abloh, a man who boasts a bachelor degree in civil engineering degree from University of Wisconsin, Masters in architecture from Illinois Institute of Technology and also a DJ going by the name Flat White; is the founder of one of the biggest brands in the world right now.

PAST

Virgil Abloh was a topic of discussion just before he became mainstream. The topic of discussion amongst fashion enthusiasts came about when he launched his very first brand Pyrex Vision, which is very much the ‘’pre’’ Off-White. Many people argued on whether his just an average person looking for a chance to make money from celebrities around him and the hype they’d bring about from wearing his designs, by making screen printed t-shirts and flannels out of cheap blanks and selling them at very high prices compared to other street-wear brands. Why did people see Virgil and his brand as over-rated at that time (2012)? Because he was closely and heavily associated with the legendary Kanye West. Working as Kanye’s creative consultant at the age of 22, interning alongside him at Fendi in 2009 and being the art director for Kanye West’s and Jay-Z’s WATCH THE THRONE. Virgil and Kanye’s relationship could be considered quite tight, hence why he came across as that guy with a celebrity friend to help him make a few bucks in 2012 when he launched Pyrex in New York, in December. Virgil Abloh’s Pyrex flannels were infamous due to them being Ralph Lauren rugby shirts with a screen printed Pyrex logo and over priced at $550 which was a mark-up of approximately 700%. Complex Magazine even labelled it in one of its article as one of the most ridiculous swagger-jacks.

  OFF WHITE & Virgil Abloh: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE              

However when asked about it in an interview with HYPEBEAST Virgil said “Yeah, that was the whole idea. People misconstrued that. For me it was obvious, but I understand that it wasn’t for others. It’s just re-appropriation. “That’s what the whole thing was: Grab [Ralph Lauren] Rugby shirts, buy them all, then print on them, and then everyone tries to find the stuff. People’s perception on Virgil wasn’t surprising because of his association with Kanye West and with no doubt it did contribute to his name rising to fame and popularity despite being in Kanye’s shadow, but many were wrong about Virgil and his brand as a whole because what he had to offer in the long run was actually more than what people thought and saw. 

The reason I perceive Pyrex Vision a ‘’pre’’ OFF-WHITE is because it was the drive and foundation that later on led Virgil Abloh into rebranding and founding the high-end streetwear brand, Off-White. Upon creation, Pyrex by highly popular retailers like Colette, the store that was dubbed ‘’the trendiest store in the world’’ by Forbes.Colette was closed last year in December, for good. Virgil Abloh’s long term goal as he once said “In a large part streetwear is seen as cheap. What my goal has been is to add an intellectual layer to it and make it credible. ” The similarities, clothing wise, between Pyrex and Off-White’s early graphics can be easily noticed by comparing both their fonts and graphics on t-shirts. ASAP Rocky in the picture below is seen in the Pyrex Religion hoodie which has artwork and design very similar to the now Off-White pieces such as this Spring 2015 Menswear collection t-shirt and hoodie as shown in the picture below.

OFF WHITE & Virgil Abloh: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

OFF WHITE & Virgil Abloh: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

Whilst Virgil says he deaded Pyrex Vision himself to carry on the mission as newly found Off-White, I strongly believe that despite selling out quite fast on several drops, Pyrex eventually died and failed to keep up in the competitive streetwear market. Why? It was a temporary hype and the average people knew that Virgil was just screen printing cheap t-shirts and flannels reselling them for much more. Pyrex lacked as much influence as Off-White has right now and also didn’t have much to offer, it’s range of products weren’t as broad as Off-White currently and the way it was marketed was completely different. In the digital world we live in, on top of celebrity influence, the best marketing is on the internet/social media.  

PRESENT

 

It seems like Virgil Abloh is doing everything right with Off-White. By correcting everything that he did wrong with Pyrex. As if he was testing the waters before diving in for the win. The current state of OFF-WHITE is beyond impressive. One of the very first things he corrected was quality. This was made possible in 2014 by partnering with the Italian production and distribution company, New Guards Group, which was launched by Marcelo Burlo. New Guards Group also works with Palm Angels, Heron Preston and more. Off-White now gets its clothes manufactured from scratch which ensures maximum quality and creative control, something that Pyrex failed to do as it just screen printed on cheap blanks. OFF-WHITE is arguably the most influential brand right now. Pretty hard to describe whether its streetwear or luxury fashion, hence its phrase/motto, “Defining the grey area between black and white as Off-White™”.  

With retailers/stockists witnessing surges of demand of almost 100% each year, Off-White is growing exponentially. I would like to believe it is not even at its peak yet. The statement from Sarah Andelman, the closed Colette’s founder and creative director, serves as evidence on how big Off-White is currently. “Off-White was first a collection for our ground floor, with other streetwear brands. Then in a very organic way it became a [luxury] fashion brand for our first floor,” said Sarah Andelman for an article by BOF (Business of Fashion). Colette started stocking Virgil Abloh’s work from over a decade ago, the days of Pastelle (Kanye West and Virgil Abloh’s brand that was never launched), and Pyrex Vision. So clearly if there is anyone who can confidently speak on the current status and success of OFF-WHITE, it’s Sarah.            

Off-White’s secret to success? I believe it’s highly powered by the brands engagement with the youth and fashion as a culture. Off-White is highly associated with young influencers, celebrities and popular fashion icons with a very high social media buzz such as Luka Sabbat who is a well-known model and actor, Bloody Osiris who was the stylist for the latest Off-White runway and Ian Connor, Kanye West’s protégé and close friend to A$AP Mob.  These guys regularly receive unreleased samples which they flaunt on their social media, I mean who wouldn’t? Bear in mind that millions of youths are constantly watching these guys for style inspiration and if they see them constantly in Off-White, the demand sky rockets. Unlike with Pyrex whereby only celebrities mostly in the rap industry and  only a handful out of the music business were seen wearing it often, Off-White’s sphere of influence has since increased. Accessibility is one of the reasons the brand rose to celebrity status and being much sought after by individuals of great influence. It is quick to sell out and pricey at retail, meaning not everyone may get their hands on some Off-White as much as they want to. Another contribution to Off-White’s growth in popularity is Virgil’s strategic way of gifting various celebrities with his shoes from the famous Nike collaboration ‘’ The Ten ‘’, hand signed by him and also writing the celebrities nicknames on the sole by himself.      

OFF WHITE & Virgil Abloh: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE                                                                                                                                               

From Tennis players like Roger Federer, Queen B herself, models too: the Hadid sisters, Naomi Campbell, Louis Vuitton’s former Creative Director, Kim Jones, Travis Scott, Drake and many more.

 

OFF WHITE & Virgil Abloh: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE

This means more exposure for the brand, tennis fanatics who aren’t into streetwear or high fashion will see their favourite tennis player on court with a rare shoe and will want to know about it.

OFF WHITE & Virgil Abloh: PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE               

                                                                                                                                                 

Besides being engaged with Off-White consumers and fashion enthusiasts, Virgil Abloh makes sure his brand is a part of it too. There is a certain relationship that Off-White has with the public that most brands lack especially in high-end fashion and street-wear. Most creative directors and brand founders spend most of their time in their creative habitat and are mostly seen either spotted by paparazzi or during fashion shows. It’s not quite often that you’ll see these big shots mingling with general public. I believe this is where Off-White beats its competition. How often do you see Supreme’s James Jebbia in public or at his stores? I bet you can count those times, if ever they exist. Virgil is highly involved in his brands campaigns.

When most brands, creative directors and designers collaborate, especially high end fashion brands, consumers just get the end product and a brief description of the collaboration. For example Supreme x LV was one of the biggest collaborations from last year but how in depth do we know more about it? The drive behind it. In contrast to this,  one of the most anticipated sneaker collaborations of 2017 was between Nike and Off-White, ‘’The Ten ‘’, Virgil Abloh and Nike had an event called “ Off Campus “. At this event, almost all information regarding everything to do with the collaboration was available, starting out by a discussion between Virgil Abloh and Andy Caine, VP of Nike Footwear Design. The set-up of the event was designed in such a way to show case the inspirations behind the designs as well as the creative process.  

   

Virgil Abloh during the Nike ‘’ Off Campus ‘’ event with Andy Caine

Part of the set-up for the Nike ‘’ Off Campus ‘’ event    

Part of the set-up for the Nike ‘’ Off Campus ‘’ event      

Part of the set-up for the Nike ‘’ Off Campus ‘’ event  

Virgil is almost always wearing Off-White every time you see him, almost as if his the face of his own brand. He also had a lecture at Harvard a few months back where he broke down the design language he uses and his upcoming project with IKEA, a company no one would have ever guessed would collaborate with Off-White. After the show a student asked for his shoes to be signed, proving how Virgil’s signature move of signing shoes and sending them to celebrities is highly envied hence creating a hype. He ended up having several people around him wanting their shoes signed.

Virgil Abloh signing fans shoes at Harvard.

Virgil Abloh once mentioned how his store in Hong Kong is one of his proudest achievements, “People need to experience what the brand means for the T-shirt to make sense.” He is perfectly in sync with his brand. Using social media as a platform to engage actively with his brands consumers. Virgil Abloh has a personal Instagram & Twitter accounts that are very active. He also uses social media as a way to view Off-White from a consumer perspective and seeing what people have to say about his offerings. During a discussion with Tom Sachs at the Apolis Community Centre, Virgil spoke on his involvement and engagement with his brand consumers, making it clear that he loves WhatsApp and Instagram and that’s what he would prefer doing than being a behind a microphone.  "My main motivation is almost from your perspective of like, 'Off- White is whack. Off-White is streetwear. Off-White isn't fashion. Virgil isn't a designer, or XYZ brand is a real fashion brand, So all [those] hypebeast-type comments... Those things I sit and I look at it all. I'm a consumer, too" says Virgil.

Overall, the current status of Off-White is nothing short of impressive, showing consistency each and every year since being launched. Virgil Abloh has managed to get Off-White on the runway  alongside some of the most popular luxury fashion brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Raf Simons and more, on top of that he has managed to stand the test of time thus far, we all know how tough fashion and runway critics are.  In my opinion  Off-White is a perfect example of a transition or sort of fusion between high-end luxury brands and street-wear brands, this idea comes from observations of most recent runways of which some luxury brands showcase designs that may be considered streetwear inspired such as the Gucci graphical t-shirts, sweatpants and more. The Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaboration is the most notable example of what I’m saying. Off-White has played a significant role in getting streetwear the attention it deserves. It has also managed to be influential in several aspects besides just clothing. The Vice of the NYCB ( New York City Ballet ) board of directors, Sarah Jessica Parker ,chose Virgil Abloh to be part of the crew to design their 2017 gala costumes. He  designed the cover of Lil Uzi Vert’s highly anticipated LUV IS RAGE 2 and also directing the video for his smash hit “ XO TOUR LIF3 “. Virgil was also a DJ on Travis Scott’s ‘’Bird Eye View Tour’’, your favorite designer could never.

Virgil Abloh DJing on Travis Scott’s tour. IMAGE : LEIGHTON POPE

In 2017, he was also the designer of the limited-edition merch for Travis Scott’s “ Birds Eye View Tour” , Kid Cudi's "Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin' Tour" and Yams Day memorial T-shirts for AWGE, an A$AP Mob collective . 2017 was considerably one of Virgil’s best years, showcasing collaborations which have already debuted and some yet to launch later on. Some of these include Levi’s, Waxby, Nike, KITH and IKEA. Virgil Abloh and Jimmy Choo also recently had a dinner at Taglialatella Galleries, for their shoe collaboration. A number of celebrities showed up including popular models like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid (dressed in Off-White) and Naomi Campbell

Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Naomi Campbell.

Rihanna was spotted a few days after wearing some shoes from the collection.

 

Rihanna wearing the Jimmy Choo x Off-White heels, PHOTO : GETTY|SPLASHNEWS

With its prices being quite hefty for the ordinary or average millennial, Off-White is still highly sought after by both the filthy rich and the middle class. Virgil Abloh is no more under Kanye’s shadow of influence, he has evidently created his identity and proved himself, something he had not done in his Pyrex days.

FUTURE

In an interview with GQ’s Noah Johnson, Raf Simons was asked on how young designers inspire him, Raf Simons said “Not Off-White. He’s a sweet guy. I like him a lot actually. But I’m inspired by people who bring something that I think has not been seen, that is original. “This must have come as hurtful to Virgil who is a Raf Simons collector himself, once mentioning how everyone else is the product of an earthquake, one that has been created by Raf Simons as the king of design. ASAP Rocky, the number one Raf Simons fan who has a song named after him, aired his thoughts on this comment via a tweet.

If there’s anything that may affect Off-White with time to come may be how the brand can be considered to be feeding off the hype it has created and using it to its advantage as much as possible. With some people labelling the brand as “ over rated “ because of how Virgil can literally just write a phrase in quotes on a plain white t-shirt and it will retail for a high amount of cash. Some of his work, honestly speaking, is boring and uninspired but because it’s Virgil, it will definitely sell out. At the same time Virgil’s involvement with his brand behind the scenes and with the youth may be the cue to Off-White staying relevant for the longest time possible. This is because he knows what the youths want and there has been a relationship developed between him and his fans, a cult like following such as that of Supreme has been growing for Off-White in the past years.

The major question is what does Off-White have to offer for the future and will it stand the test of time. The fashion world is highly competitive and because of trends it evolves at a very fast pace, what may be the most sought after shoe today may be the least wanted shoe in a year. I think the answer to this question will vary from one person to another. Personally I think Off-White has not reached its peak yet but is about to. What happens after then is what’s crucial. I feel like Off-White will eventually decrease in influence, just slightly. We will still see it on the runway and in the most popular retailers all over the globe, but it will be more of a household name meaning it will still sell out, a brand that has already proven itself and letting new talent take over the hype. I am curious to see how the future of Off-White will turn out. What do you think?

 

Follow Brian Benza on Instagram @Dripset_Incand his personal blog at DripsetInc.com. You can also reach him directly at dripsetinc@gmail.com.

 



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