Fashion Feature, Couture Magazine, Spring 2018
Virgil Abloh is a 37-year-old fashion designer from Chicago, IL. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Abloh studied engineering before completing a Master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. This experience is where Abloh claims to have gotten his eye for design, learning not only about design principles but the concept of collaborative work. His talents earned the attention of rapper, Kanye West, who hired Abloh to work as his creative director and for his creative content company, DONDA. This opportunity gave Abloh the chance to work with some of the most interesting and influential people in fashion. He worked with West for over a decade before leaving to develop his own company, Pyrex Vision.
Pyrex Vision was founded in 2012 as a reappropriated art experiment. The brand’s aesthetic was representative of more traditional “street style”, and the collection consisted of a series of screen-printed flannels, hoodies, and t-shirts. Pyrex Vision became a huge subject of controversy when it was revealed that the screen-printed flannels were from end-of-the-line Ralph Lauren Rugby stock and were being marked up to over $500. Criticism from consumers and industry professionals aside, Pyrex Vision still quickly sold out of these controversial flannels. Abloh kept creating despite the censure, the fashion industry, in turn, grew to respect his products and support him during his success. After several years, Pyrex Vision evolved into Off-white, a high fashion clothing and furniture label. This transition was made in 2014 when Abloh decided to collaborate with the Italian fashion designers of New Guards Group to rebrand.
Off-white is known for everything from patchwork to graphic tees, all featuring their trademark stripes. Although it is probably easier to categorize Off-white as streetwear, high fashion’s growing interest in that genre is making it an increasingly hard-to-define aesthetic. Just by its name, Off-white represents the opposite of Pyrex Vision as it has evolved to a more defined, familiar aesthetic. One way in which Abloh’s designs differentiate significantly from the established ideals of street style is in the distressed look of the clothes- rather than looking brand new, they have a tattered appearance. A similar style is seen in many of Kanye West’s YEEZY collections…. Hmmm? Coincidence? This unique style differs from traditional streetwear enough so that it can accepted by the elite fashion community but remains reminiscent of conventional urban style. Off-white is the first brand to successfully marry those two things. Other brands, such as Supreme- which some see as the epitome of streetwear- have ventured into high fashion by collaborating with designers from Louis Vuitton, Bape, and Vetements, but they have not been as nearly successful as Off-white. Through their ready-to-wear pieces, Off-white is changing the way the fashion industry views urban style in a dramatic way.
Virgil Abloh’s designs are created with the intention of celebrating the individuals who wear them. He considers himself an artist, rather than a fashion designer, and believes strongly that he is working towards something greater, beyond clothes, that is representative of today’s youth. Although his apparel is expensive, Abloh sees his brand, the image, and the quality of his designs as all things that are free. He wants his art to inspire and for others to go create their own versions of what is unique and beautiful. Off-White lives and thrives on these kinds of paradoxes: taking inspiration from the youth, who provide the energy, but then selling to the rich- whose money makes it all possible- and posing as a renegade insurgent but seeking mainstream validation at the same time. Although high-fashion’s interest in street style will most likely fizzle one day, Virgil Abloh and Off-white have altered the way the fashion industry values individualism. More than a fad, streetwear has become a movement leading to a fashion renaissance where everyday Americans are developing their own sense of style and distinct taste. Virgil Abloh, who had earned widespread respect in the fashion world, has also done something greater- he has connected the gap between high fashion and streetwear, this new style of clothing revolutionizing the industry.