Fashion Brands & Icons

Off-White: The Story of a Luxury Streetwear Pioneer

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Off-White is one of the leading streetwear fashion brands of all time. The brand got worldwide recognition in such a short period of time and pioneered in the luxury streetwear market. Behind the name, it brings the concept of the union of contrasts between black and white, a palette very present in its creations.

In this article, we are going to tell this story. Keep reading to know all the details!

Before Off-White: Virgil Abloh’s Story

The future founder of Off-White was born on September 30, 1980, in Rockford. His parents were immigrants from Ghana, and his mother was a seamstress. She introduced him to the first teachings related to fashion.

Virgil’s main characteristics were a passion for art and sports, street culture, skateboarding and graffiti. Despite his creative mind, the young man chose to go to civil engineering college to fulfill his father’s dream of having an engineer son. After graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he completed a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

A Fashion Friendship: Virgil & Kanye

Virgil and Kanye met in Chicago in 2002. West was already a well-known rapper, but he hadn’t yet expanded his empire beyond music. They were both interns at Fendi in the summer of 2009, which expanded the relationship between the two and also with fashion.

Since the beginning of their friendship, Virgil has always been his advisor when it came to art direction and fashion.

2009 Paris Fashion Week

That year, Kanye had just closed a partnership with Louis Vuitton and the creative team traveled to the French capital to align the project, which coincides with Paris Fashion Week. They were all photographed in a “now-infamous group shot outside of the Comme des Garçons show.”

holding kanye pfw tommy ton
Photographed by Tommy Ton.

As it was futuristic, it divided opinions but resulted in a new opportunity for the luxury market. “This was actually before street style had become such a phenomenon and you could really see how much Kanye loved fashion and clothes, and Virgil did too,” said Tommy Ton to VOGUE.

From merchandising to tour stages to special effects and art installations, Abloh also worked on the album’s graphic material. This position led Abloh to design the Grammy-winning artwork for West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne album.

The Controversial Pyrex

With support from his friends and street fashion experts Marc Moran and Don C, Abloh launched the Pyrex Vision brand as a first test in the fashion market. The debut collection featured a line of plaid flannel shirts.

He made the clothing from deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts bought for $40 each. The controversy is that after being screen printed with the word “Pyrex” and the number 23 — a reference to Michael Jordan — the flannels were resold for $550 each.

“The gray area between black and white as the color Off-White”

Pyrex’s idea led to what we know today. Virgil Abloh founded Off-White in 2013 as a multi-platform creative endeavor, a space for his continuous experimentation. He spoke directly to the young audience, approaching customers and fans who are fascinated by the universe of music, contemporary art, streetwear and the luxury market.

As the official website says: “The main medium being fashion yet he combined ideas of streetwear, luxury, art, music, and architecture. Virgil’s visionary approach to the medium of fashion remains iconoclastic and profoundly conceptual yet accessible to a broad global audience.”

The Collabs

Virgil Abloh reinvented a total of ten different models of Nike sneakers for his The Ten project, including the Air Max, Air Jordan, Blazer and VaporMax. In addition to Nike, the designer was responsible for collaborating with several other brands, including:

  • Levi’s
  • Rimowa
  • Mc Donald’s
  • Jimmy Choo
  • IKEA
  • Moncler
  • Browns
  • Warby Parker
  • Sunglass Hut
  • Champion
  • Évian
  • Converse
  • Dr. Martens
  • Barneys New York
  • Umbro
  • Timberland
  • Takashi Murakami
  • Heron Preston
  • ASAP Rocky
  • Byredo
  • Boys Noize
  • Le Bon Marché
  • Asspizza
  • Kerwin Fros
  • The Ballet Composer’s Holiday

Off-White & Louis Vuitton

In 2018, Virgil was named artistic director of the menswear line at Louis Vuitton. He became the first black man to hold the position. Louis Vuitton is the flagship of the largest luxury conglomerate in the world, LVMH.

In July 2021, LVMH announced it would take a 60% stake in Off-White, with founder Virgil Abloh, retaining the remaining 40%. Virgil was promoted to a new position within LVMH that would allow him to work across the group’s 75 brands, making him the most powerful Black executive in the group.

But after many inspiring achievements and innovations, Abloh’s trajectory came to a halt and the world got the news no one was waiting for.

Virgil Abloh’s Legacy

The 41-year-old designer died in November last year in Chicago after a two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer.

Abloh now lives as a legacy. He broke down barriers for other designers like him to have space in the industry and made the dream of belonging possible for a new generation of the black community fashion lovers.

Virgil always believed in the future of the young ones, as Off-White’s first ever line was named “The Youth Always Win.” 

In 2020, Abloh launched a fund aimed at black fashion students, with an initial value of $1 million. The mission of the Virgil Abloh™ Post-Modern Scholarship Fund is “to foster equity and inclusion within the fashion industry by providing scholarships to students of academic promise of Black, African-American, or African descent.”

Almost six months after his death, Off-White has named Ib Kamara as its new image and art director. He is a stylist from Sierra Leone and had a strong collaborative relationship with Abloh. They had works signed together in both Off-White presentations and Louis Vuitton menswear collections.

If you love the history of big brands and fashion icons, then you must read this article: Halston: The Rise & Decline of the Iconic American Designer – Transformed Into a Netflix Show.

Júlia Dara

Content Producer

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Júlia Dara

Content Producer

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