Why Off-White Is More Than Just a Fashion Brand
Why Off-White Is More Than Just a Fashion Brand
- Words Xavier Spurlock
- Date July 25, 2017
Off-White isn’t a fashion brand; it is a catch-all—a space that Virgil Abloh can deposit all of his ideas, concepts and experiments in. These ideas come in the form of any medium that Abloh can step into and alter, whether it be DJing, designing fashion or curating art. Added together, these many creative outputs unify under the entity known as “Off-White”.
Abloh once said that Off-White is a playground where he attempts to get the world to understand his ideas.
"The term [fashion designer] doesn't sit well with me because I feel like I'm not," Abloh said during a speech at Columbia University. "I just think. The reason why the projects scale across different platforms is because the idea of putting things in a box just doesn't work for me."
Off-White's mission automatically disqualifies it from being placed solely in the category of fashion. Its purpose isn’t to make good clothes like some of Abloh’s LVMH Prize Finalist-peers (e.g. Craig Green or Faustine Steinmetz) or to create a lifestyle label. Even though aspects of it falls into these categories, Off-White’s main purpose is to be a representative for street culture and allow it to transcend into an art movement, using any, and every, medium necessary to do so.
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Although Abloh’s background is in architecture and civil engineering, half of his time at school “was also spent on hip-hop, skateboarding, and all things that make the 90s the 90s.” While attending school he knew his plan wasn't to necessarily design buildings. He just needed a major that would allow him to learn design.
In 2003, he skipped his final critiques to meet with Kanye West’s manager and began working with West that same year. While with West, Abloh created merchandise for the "Glow In The Dark Tour", designed the Yeezus album artwork, and was the art director for the album Watch the Throne.
It was in 2012, when Abloh directed a fashion video with graffiti artist Jim Joe, that he first created something that would embody what Off-White represents today. With his own vision in mind. The video featured members of the A$AP Mob wearing clothing that Abloh designed specifically for the project. The clothing alluded to the belief that, in order to make it out of a bad neighborhood, you have to cook crack or become an athlete of Michael Jordan-esque proportions.
This video was titled "A Team With No Sport"—and consequently our first introduction to Pyrex Vision. As we’d ultimately come to see with Off-White, Pyrex Vision quickly became "the brand to have" even though—in Abloh’s mind—it wasn't “fashion.”
"Pyrex wasn't fashion to me," Abloh explained in the Summer 2017 issue of 032c. "It was a poem: Pyrex 23, how to make it out the hood. Either you have to be an amazing basketball player are have to be able to sell crack."
After being constantly unsatisfied with the music they were hearing when they went to clubs, Abloh, along with Matthew Williams, Heron Preston, and JJJJound, founded DJ group #BEENTRILL#. The founding members couldn't understand why DJs weren't playing the songs that were extremely popular on the internet in the clubs. So, out of sheer frustration, they decided to play the music for themselves.
"We were playing music off our laptops that we weren't hearing in the club and we questioned that," Heron Preston explained during a talk hosted by Trans94. "Like how come we're not hearing the music that we love so much in the clubs? How come the DJs aren't turning up how we want them to turn up? F**k that. We're going to throw the parties now."
A multidisciplinary artist, Abloh has the ability to continuously spot open lanes within culture and seamlessly fill the void. As a result, what began as an aimless endeavor has transformed into a dominant, all-encompassing force.
"We started DJing out of necessity because we wanted better music," Abloh once said. “That was one of the first instances [of realizing] that everything is editable. You can change everything."
Abloh’s style sphere of influence is not limited simply to fashion design. His wardrobe also challenges popular (and occasionally insular) industry conception. During a series of meetings with LVMH executives and a jury panel of fashions finest—Raf, Karl, Phoebe, to name a few—as part of the 2015 LVMH prize, Abloh used the opportunity to try and get the fashion establishment to understand the value of a person coming from an unfamiliar territory—in this case, street culture. Abloh wore a Supreme shirt to every meeting, as a visible reminder that his viewpoint, while different, was valid,
“The first person that critiqued my work was Marc Jacobs,” Abloh said at a speech at the Rhode Island School of Design. “He looked at my t-shirt and said ‘I immediately get it.’ That dot just got connected. So when a young kid from New York shows up to my office wearing a Supreme hat, I understand that you're coming from a different point of fashion design and culture.”
As he continuously bridges the gap between high fashion and streetwear, it’s clear that Off-White is the medium that is pulling the two closer together. Whether you are someone who shops along Paris’ Rue Saint-Honoré, or down along New York’s Rivington Street, the effect is palpable.
"Part of the reason I show in Paris and sell in 200 of the best stores—and not at a low-tier price point—is that I'm communicating off the back of all the failed brands on Rivington Street and Orchard Street," Virgil said in 032c. " That's my culture and we're all linked together."
More than simply cite his influences, Abloh and Off-White actively give back to the blend of cultures from which they took root. During the Off-White 2018 Resort collection, spectators were—in a way—given a piece of Off-White’s DNA to use as a blueprint when designing their own clothing. Instead of screen-printing a sculpture on a bag, Abloh printed the word "sculpture" in quotes. Rather than putting floral print on garments he printed "floral print here." It's a tongue-in-cheek aesthetic that not only cynically looks at the process of designing clothes, but indirectly shows others “how to design.”
Abloh has discovered parts of the fashion world that are often obstructed at fashion schools. Off-White then is platform to deliver the information. Abloh's speeches at universities (like Columbia University’s “Everything in Quotes” lecture back in February) are clear instances where Abloh “revealed all secrets” to people that lack the resources or ability to do something like study art or attend fashion school.
It’s not a secret that gaining access into the romanticized worlds of art and high fashion can be cost and class prohibitive. Abloh believes that it's his democratic duty to show street kids how they can flourish in the fashion world.
“What I do has the instructions embedded into it, so that kids can look at the garment and think, ‘hey I can do that too,’” Abloh explained in 032c. “That’s true of anything from a screen-printed Ralph Lauren shirt to showing 35 looks in the UNESCO building in Paris with leaves falling.”
In 2019, Abloh will be presenting a museum exhibition centered on the importance of street culture. Although in it's infant stages, the exhibition’s purpose is to get society to recognize street culture as an art movement.
"It's an exhibition showing the importance of street culture," Abloh explained in an interview with [Highsnobiety](. "Not streetwear, but the idea that a generation like ours can make things that are important for a lifetime. It's looking at youth culture as an art movement and not streetwear."
Off-White is not only a way to record what's currently relevant on the street, but additionally a chance to credit those who directly impact street culture. Off-White allows Abloh to show people, both in and out of the scene, the importance that street culture carries. It is the tangible embodiment of Kanye West’s 2016 VMA speech with a different level of structure and elegance.
“I want people to look back in 50 years and be like ‘Man, this streetwear thing, was it even credible?’ Abloh explained in 032c. “This is about being part of history.”
The upcoming art exhibition is as culturally necessary (and intersectional) as having Migos set the soundtrack to a major runway show in Paris, or designing the merch for—and DJing at—at a Travis Scott show, or writing the nicknames of his culture-shifting friends on the soles of Jordan 1's in promotion of his Nike collaboration.
Abloh’s designs are “courtesy of Off-White,” but not completely courtesy of fashion. That is because Abloh is not a fashion designer and Off-White is not a fashion brand. It is a unified thesis—a single name that embodies the overarching blend of products, events, relationships, aesthetics and ideas that “Off-White” delivers to the world.