Off-White is best known for its $1,000 hoodies; expensive and ironic phone cases; lively partnerships that contribute to billion dollar sneaker business; branded, seemingly non-functional industrial-themed belts; and experimental furniture. Two years ago, when kids lined up and paid over $1,000 for a genuine Supreme-issued brick, it was at least obvious that it was a prank.
But Off-White is serious. It consists mostly of t-shirts, hoodies and sneakers, and is adored by teenagers on Reddit, wealthy club kids in New York and Milan, pop stars and rich rappers in every magazine and on social media, and much of the high fashion elite, including Virgil Abloh’s early supporter, Marc Jacobs. Let’s dive into the success story of Off-White.
Off-White started with a bang
Virgil Abloh, 22, the son of two Ghanaian immigrants (his mother was a seamstress), graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Civil Engineering that year. Abloh met Kanye West and designed his clothes and album cover that year. Abloh also earned a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006. (It shows his intelligence and seemingly endless energy.) West and Abloh interned at Fendi in the summer of 2009 and went on to said they had done nothing, but had become closer friends.
West named Abloh “creative director” in 2010. (Every rapper now has a creative director, and Rihanna has about 14.) Kanye West’s hit album with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne, was Abloh’s first major public effort with West. In 2012, Abloh created Pyrex Vision, a store based on a scam: buying cheap Champion basics and Ralph Lauren dead stock, screen-printing his own simple images on them, and selling them for hundreds of dollars. Buzz! Controversial! A$AP Rocky!
Off-White has revamped 10 Nike classics in 2017. The popularity and rarity of this shoe line defies description. Although they started at $200, most pairs have gone to celebrities and resale prices are now over $1,000. In 2018, Abloh became the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, which was covered by every fashion or business journal and discussed by every celebrity who had ever worn expensive clothes. Playboi Carti and Kid Cudi posed for her Parisian premiere with Rihanna.
Outperform several high-end fashion houses
According to a quarterly ranking published by the fashion and e-commerce portal Lyst, Off-White is the most popular brand in the world. It has jumped 33 positions in Lyst’s list over the past year and, for the first time this quarter, it has eclipsed historic high-end fashion houses such as Gucci and Balenciaga. This ranking should be taken with a grain of salt, as Off-White is not a publicly traded company and we know nothing of its sales (although Gucci and Balenciaga have experienced “exceptional” growth this year).
In addition, the Lyst index relies heavily on opaque sources, including its own search, browse and purchase data, social media “engagement statistics” and “sentiment analysis”. It also incorporates data from Google search, which is publicly available, but it’s unclear how that data is weighted into this secret, somewhat oddly complex algorithm. Whatever the methodology, the index points to the obvious: “luxury” today refers to high-end streetwear. Streetwear has been a boon to the $300 billion global high-end fashion industry, contributing to an expected 5% expansion in 2017.
Federica Levato, a partner at marketing consultancy Bain & Company, told Business of Fashion last October that their clients are getting younger, which is great for the medium to long-term survival of this industry. She explained that there is a big market of $2.5 million for luxury t shirts, for example, which grows very quickly. And there is a half billion dollar market for rubber sliders, which is very unusual in this market.
The controversies being the brand’s free publicity
The brand has been the subject of controversy. Abloh’s perception of what is good, beautiful, and meaningful seems to be shaped by what makes an impression, and not necessarily by any consistent or obvious moral or intellectual viewpoint. Last summer, he collaborated with renowned socially conscious conceptual artist Jenny Holzer to develop a collection of pro-immigration and anti-neo-nationalism pieces, and he designed t-shirts for Planned Parenthood that winter.
Nonetheless, he continued to support hip-hop icon Ian Connor, who has been accused of rape more than twenty times. In a 2017 W profile in which Abloh was crowned “King of social media superinfluencershe named Connor as a member of his “inner circle” alongside A$AP Mob’s creative director, A$AP Bari, who has also been charged with sexual assault (video evidence leaked on Reddit just before his arrest) and with whom Nike severed ties in 2018.
Abloh’s “everything in quotes” slogan serves as a rallying cry for sarcastic distancing when it comes to the real designs he’s created. Asked about becoming the first black man to design his own label for Louis Vuitton, the 165-year-old told W that his generation was interested in fashion but was not destined to be in it.
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Sources: Voice, BoF, vogue
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