More than any other brand, Off-White has succeeded in capturing, crystalising, and disseminating the millennial experience – and that’s in no small part thanks to its founder Virgil Abloh’s refusal to be pinned down. To just about anything. A career, an idea, a fashion system, and some days, even a time zone.
“Freedom exists on many levels, whether that’s creatively or vocationally or mentally. To truly be creative you have to be open to a number of opportunities. Life is so 360, no longer do you have to do one profession your whole lifetime, and I think young people have embraced that,” observes the DJ and fashion designer who finds that each discipline informs the other.
“The number one rule of Off-White is that it’s not singular,” he insists. “It’s literally a mixture of the middle. And that’s how I found creative freedom. To the music world, I can be one thing and to fashion, I can be one thing. I don’t operate in either/or, specifically, and the way I see it is, life is too short and it cuts off inspiration if you limit yourself.”
Born on the streets of New York, made in Italy, and shown in Paris, Off-White is the very manifestation of Virgil’s vision of a brand without borders – geographically, socially and democratically, and a desire for
streetwear to be accepted within the upper echelons. “It’s an ethos about contemporary fashion that mixes high and low,” he argues.
This idea may have seemed radical at the birth of the brand in 2014, but we’ve since seen Louis Vuitton partner with Supreme for AW17 and Gucci will join forces with Dapper Dan, the hip-hop tailor of Harlem for SS18, completing the luxury-slash-streetwear cipher. “I think those are super- modern ideas and they’re both very progressive with the acknowledgement that trends in fashion not only come from the top down but they can come from the bottom up,” he admits. Not unlike Off-White, then? “100 per cent. That’s where the name Off-White comes from. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.”
For a label with luxury aspirations and such strong ties to the street, the People’s Princess seems an unlikely style icon for his millennial audience for Spring/Summer 2018, considering Diana, Princess of Wales died four years before 16-year-old Kaia Gerber, who walked in the show, was even born. “I would argue that she was
one of the most photographed human beings of all time and the outfits that she was wearing on the street informed what people think is high fashion now,” Virgil protests.
Not one to shy away from unlikely associations, Virgil’s creative coconspirators have been as out- of-the-flat-pack-box as IKEA, via a super-hyped reimagined sneaker collection with Nike, to a rumoured hook-up with Louis Vuitton after he teased an LV x Jeff Koons bag with a customised Off-White strap on Instagram – a report he strenuously shuts down. “It’s definitely not happening. There is no collaboration with LV,” he stresses.
So it was only a matter of time before our very own Off-White collab hit the Middle East. Step forward Virgil’s seven-piece capsule collection of colourways and prints exclusive to Ounass. “I have a very global view on fashion. It’s not just one culture that participates in the output and for me, it’s important to connect with different parts of the world,” he reveals. “I’m very much into doing specialised products so that local cultures and people travelling can get an understanding of what I’m into.”
Part of a new wave of disruptors – “I like that term,” he muses. “I’d rather be disrupting than accepting the status quo” – how does he feel about being mentioned in the same breath as Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia as part of a new creative force in fashion? “Again, it’s not one or the other, it’s both. It’s a collective. With every art movement, it wasn’t just Warhol that had his epiphany, it wasn’t just Caravaggio that started the Renaissance. These things happen culturally at the same time.” On his own role in the movement, he clarifies, “I’m all about making sure that my voice is crystal clear on how I creatively see the world. I’m just in my own head. In essence, I’m just interested in participating rather than being complacent. If that makes me a contributor, I would agree with that.”
Where there is luxury, legacy is never far behind and despite Off- White’s relative infancy, Virgil is already considering his. He’s curating a personal archive which includes objects that inspire him including his favourite Supreme T-shirt, vintage Margiela, new artwork by Tom Sachs, and even a recording of this conversation. And then, there’s his forthcoming retrospective. “I’m doing an exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2019 of a large part of the work that hasn’t been seen that predates Off-White,” he adds. “The starting point is further in the past than people may realise.”
The democratisation of fashion is a loaded concept but to Virgil, as well as elevating and intellectualising streetwear, it also means having a voice. “My fashion influences range from Margiela and McQueen, to Phoebe Philo, Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano.” He accepts, “I was born in a different time, my aesthetic comes with a different DNA, my value system is different, but I still want to have a career that does justice to the work that they did, so that’s my focus. Hopefully that inspires others with different points of view or tastes to take part and hopefully, collectively, we end up with something valuable.”
Images: Getty Images and supplied