We explore the history of OFF-WHITE and how it became one of the most sought after streetwear brands on the planet.
From Pyrex Vision to OFF-WHITE, Virgil Abloh is a main stayer on the modern day streetwear scene. Diagonal zebra striped hoodies and yellow warning tape belts…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 high fashion x streetwear hybrid brand. The history of OFF-WHITE started with a ‘vision from Virgil’, and soon went onto become a brand on everyone’s lips.
Founded by American wunderkind Virgil Abloh, since 2013, the Milan-based label has opened showrooms in 15 locations around the world and retained a star-studded line-up of customers. With a masters degree in architecture, who would have thought Abloh’s sharp turn to designing premium streetwear could bring in such 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 had embraced with open arms. However, as he later faced controversy regarding reusing and reselling Ralph Lauren’s flannels, at an astronomical price and 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, and the history of OFF-WHITE started.
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 directed a music video for rapper Lil Uzi Vert last year. 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 OFF-WHITE plays a slightly different role than just defining what’s hip on the streets and elsewhere. To be precise, he is cultivating a sort of avant-garde and cult apparel that merges streetwear culture with premium 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 for 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 aesthetic, the 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 streetwear 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 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 own creativity.
Five years into the establishment, the brand successfully captures the streetwear scene because it has the street and people at its core. OFF-WHITE gives the youth freedom 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 the latest Mens Pre-Fall 2018 collection of the brand, 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, Moncler 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. While with Nike “The Ten” collection, the artist deconstructs ten signature sneakers, including the Air Max 97 and Air Jordan 1, restitches and reworks them to deliver a nostalgic but fresh experience. The collaboration, unsurprisingly, has driven many sneakerheads to frustration because of its limited quantity.
Even though OFF-WHITE has built a considerable group of die hard fans, there are still people out there who were held back by the price tag. Abloh however has good news for you – he has dropped a more affordable line under the name ‘For All’ at the beginning of this year. The designer wants to relate his brand to a wider customer base. Will OFF-WHITE and For All eventually become a leading premium streetwear label that truly cater for all?