From the 1980’s to today, streetwear brands have risen to rival the world’s biggest luxury labels in the fashion market. Over the years, people have shifted their interest from expertly-designed clothing and have gone for effortless and casual style with the same high quality. Not to mention the simultaneous rise of sportswear brands, thanks in part to the emergence of the superstar athletes of the 1990’s, like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tiger Woods. In this environment, one young designer has been able to capitalize on the growing market for streetwear and offered his own unique and upscale spin: Virgil Abloh.
Virgil Abloh and Off White
A first-generation immigrant, whose parents came from Ghana, of the Ewe tribe in the country’s Volta region, Virgil Abloh was born on September 30, 1980. He grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and attended the Boylan Catholic High School. He then went to the University of Wisconsin for his undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering and got his Masters degree in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology a few years after. It was during his time in the institute when he first got bitten by the fashion bug, having discovered Miuccia Prada and her works through her collaborations with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who, at that time, just finished the student centre for the McCormick Tribune Campus.
In 2002, Abloh met rapper Kanye West and became part of his creative team, “Donda”, where he worked as his creative consultant. His work for the rapper included merchandise for his tours, set designs for his concerts and music videos, and album covers. He was even nominated in 2011 for a Grammy award for Best Recording Package for his work as art director of West’s musical collaboration with Jay-Z, “Watch The Throne”. While he worked with West for over 14 years, he often chooses not to get into the details of his time with the rapper, even refusing to mention how he met West and how he got hired to be part of his team.
Similarly to West, Abloh also interned at Roman fashion house Fendi in 2009, working under the brand’s iconic creative director, Karl Lagerfeld. That same year, he married his longtime girlfriend Shannon Sundberg, and later opened his first label, Pyrex Vision. Under his first line, Abloh sold t-shirts and vintage Ralph Lauren flannel shirts, all screen-printed with the brand’s name and logo. It garnered commendable success, with the help of rappers like West and A$AP Rocky who frequently wore his designs. It even caught the attention of retailers like Colette in Paris and Union in Los Angeles, who ordered some of the brand’s pieces and sold them in their flagship stores.
In 2013, he closed down Pyrex Vision to start his new line, Off-White. The brand mixed streetwear fashions with a more refined style, putting together both the urban aesthetic of his previous collaborators and the upscale retailers that helped start his career in fashion. The label was an instant success, having garnered a huge social media following and earning a spot in both the menswear and womenswear Paris Fashion Weeks, both of which debuted during the Spring 2014 season. In 2015, the label was nominated for the coveted LVMH Prize, losing to fellow streetwear brand, London-based Marques Almeida.
Example of a Modern-day Success
Stocks of the brand’s items are sold in various prestigious retailers, such as Selfridges in London, Barney’s in New York, Colette in Paris, and the e-commerce giant, Net-A-Porter. From 2015 to 2016, the brand’s sales grew by 100%, a lot of which contributed by customers from North America and Europe. Later in 2016, the brand opened its first store outside both continents, in the Aoyama district in Tokyo, Japan. It was the first of many in Asia, having opened two more in 2017, one in Shanghai, China and another in Seoul, South Korea.
In 2017, Abloh pursued a number of collaborations, most with well-established brands to further broaden the awareness of his already-popular label. One of the most popular was his collaboration with sportswear giant Nike, wherein Abloh was tapped to redesign and innovate a number of their classic products. A particular highlight of this collaboration was Abloh’s re-imagining of the famous Nike Air Force 1, and upon posting a snapshot of a sample on social media, had already amassed gargantuan attention. He also collaborated with one of the very first streetwear brands in the industry, Moncler, wherein he reinvented the brand’s classic duvet jackets. He offered them in his classic vivid hues and silhouettes that were geared towards today’s taste of the streetwear crowd.
In recent years, Abloh has also formed friendships with other prominent members of the fashion world. He would frequently attend the fashion shows of colleagues like Kim Jones and Demna Gvasalia in a show of support, as well as gaining new muses like the Hadid sisters and Kendall Jenner. Recently, he also formed a new friendship with legendary supermodel Naomi Campbell, who closed his runway show during the Spring 2018 Paris Fashion Week. With a number of high profile support under his belt, there’s definitely more to expect from one of the newest best-selling brands in the global fashion industry.