“It’s named OFF-WHITE, it’s more ubiquitous. It’s not like PYREX streetwear or whatever. Eventually, I want to make things that aren’t limited to the demographic that it lives in now,” says Virgil Abloh as he pensively stares at the ground across from me. The globetrotting designer has had a big year to say the least, with his first full menswear and womenswear collection for the brand completed; he now finds himself in Hong Kong where he is opening the first OFF-WHITE physical retail space. While many still have the PYREX VISION movement ingrained in their memories, with its vivid juxtaposing motifs and catchy name, it was just the start to Abloh’s foray into his calling in fashion. PYREX VISION was the seed, OFF-WHITE is the child learning to walk.
"It’s sort of like a challenge to myself in the dialogue to show how tasteful streetwear can be and with the store, it offered the perfect background to show layers, show the depth that our culture has with streetwear, the depth our generation has."
Conceived last year, the OFF-WHITE c/o Virgil Abloh label has turned heads in the industry, making it into one of the most sought after brands across the world. From Barneys to Selfridges, and très bien to I.T., these are just a few of the prestigious stores that carry the brand, with more to surely follow as Abloh debuted his womenswear line earlier this year to great reception. Although the imprint’s signature, Caravaggio-inspired graphics and themes of baroque, as well as the distinctive black and white stripes, seem to be emblazoned across almost every fashion-related website and social media platform, fans were yet to be treated with a physical store where they could truly experience Abloh’s creative vision… until now. Of all places, the Chicago native chose to unveil his first brick and mortar in Hong Kong — with the help of fashion conglomerate I.T. — a land that is already saturated with unique concept stores that feed the thirst of the fast-moving Asian market. Yet Abloh’s vision sets the inaugural OFF-WHITE store apart from its peers; coming from an architectural background, he explained how the project came to fruition with his studied discipline in mind. “It’s a class of architecture that I studied in my Masters program from a firm called SITE, and it was like a very surreal sort of ideas. We tackled this project with a partner called Family New York, which to me, was the most progressive, young architecture firm that has the same spirit of the kids that were coming up under Rem [Koolhaas], Herzog [& de Meuron] and they had this sort of new methodology in architecture.”
With such a loyal, cult-like following, the brand could have arguably set up shop anywhere with a couple of racks, no thought in the consumer experience, and still sell the whole inventory in a matter of hours. However, this does not help the longevity of the brand, nor the aspiring designers of the next generation that look up to Abloh. We have seen all too many a time where brands purely feed off their followers and set up a store, physically or online, for a day to merely cash in, only to be forgotten in the subsequent months. Abloh is looking beyond tomorrow, he is looking towards the years where people will look back and ask “what difference did he make?”
Abloh is looking beyond tomorrow, he is looking towards the years where people will look back and ask “what difference did he make?”
Building upon this he goes on to say, “There was a sort of desire for this, to not just think of the past and build a store with I.T. in Hong Kong, where it’s like ‘hey, let’s bring some rolling racks and sell.’ That was far from my approach — my approach was to make a space that says what the clothes can. It’s sort of like a challenge to myself in the dialogue to show how tasteful streetwear can be and with the store, it offered the perfect background to show layers, show the depth that our culture has with streetwear, the depth our generation has.”
Remaining true to his original discipline in architecture was inevitably second nature for him, but rather than forcing himself into one box, he used his inspirations to further push what architecture could, and can be. “Architecturally, it was a juxtaposition — my clothes have the same juxtaposition of something formal or traditional, and then you have the screen print over it. So the space is a harsh juxtaposition of something natural and something brutal, which is the front third of the store being natural where I have plants — it actually rains from the ceiling and I had random reference points like Rainforest Cafè, which is this spot that transforms people by a Disney-type atmosphere." Going further Abloh explains the desire to capture Hong Kong’s feeling of density but from an uncommercial approach, devoid of signage as a sort of artistic commentary.
“I love having HYPEBEAST comments — which I don’t read — but I love guessing what they’re saying.”
Having the likes of JAY Z to Beyoncé and of course Kanye to name a few, wearing your clothes is obviously a sign that you’re doing something right but you need to keep evolving, especially in this day and age to create something that will be remembered. Abloh acknowledges this, which is why he is always trying to be progressive and breaking out of the confines many have put him in. “People peg me as a designer that just does streetwear. They think that it’s easy or they think that it’s a ripoff of something else. I love having HYPEBEAST comments — which I don’t read — but I love guessing what they’re saying. It doesn’t influence me in a way but it’s more into what there is in life, you don’t know what you can do until you do it so I’m trying to do as much as possible.”
Aside from his penchant for design, Abloh has a profound connection with music and playing alongside YOON at the Dior afterparty in Tokyo with Raf Simons is just a mere hint at the diverse source of inspirations that he brings to his work. While we all too often hear the number of designers, models, etc. professing that music is inherent to their line of work and thus feel that DJing provides them sufficient creative outlet, none were really born from it like Abloh. When asked about how his DJ moniker Flat White contributes to the label’s overall structure, he responded by saying, “I’ve been DJing since turntables have been around, from watching A-Trak to DMC tapes when I was in high school. I stopped for a long time and recently just got back into it because I love music just like everyone else. I want to hear the new Kanye or Drake song really loud but then you go out, and no one is playing it. So I was like ‘I’m gonna have to take on the role of playing music.’ It’s just about curating vibes, I will play a Chicago house set when people probably think I’m gonna just play hip-hop but I got a sense from the room that the palette for music was higher.”
“I’m just taking a gamble on culture because I believe in it, and us.”
Not just content with what fashion currently is, Abloh is continually trying to take the culture forward by not settling with what we already have and maintaining that he does not have any feeling of “I’ve made it.” 2015 should see both refinement and progression for the label, which will seek to pave the way for the future by leading through inspiration. “I’m still challenging myself to figure out how to make the brand stay on a progressive path, while still opening up different retail points. I want to find new models in retail and clothing brands by being a novice, steering the brand based off an emotion. Doing things that are interesting and correspond in culture, as I think our generation deserves it. My peers between Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air, Stephane Ashpool of Pigalle and I are fortunate to make it on the first rung of the ladder, we have the goal to progress and solidify.”
Many may argue that it was much easier for Abloh to get where he is when you call people like Kanye West as one of your closest friends, but regardless of his connections before starting out as a fashion designer, he is educating the next line of creatives. Through his work, he is sharing his experiences that most will never have the chance of, such as learning from a diverse range of artists in the fields of music, fashion and more. The OFF-WHITE concept store is a great example of what retail spaces can be if you don’t limit your imagination. In the age of the Internet, finding sources of inspiration has never been easier, and creatives that share the same passions and ideals are out there to further enlighten a new way of thinking or methodology, as Abloh has come to understand. Rather than producing what is expected of him, he is putting himself out there as an example of what you can achieve by staying positive and having that desire to learn, finishing off the interview with, “I’m just taking a gamble on culture because I believe in it, and us.”
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