FOCUS / THE ICON INTERVIEW
BELOW Off-White’s “For Money” wallet
T-shirts for a print shop in Chicago – which drew him into the orbit of, and ultimately a close friendship with, rapper Kanye West, with whom he famously embarked on an internship at Fendi in 2009. Following this placement with the storied Italian fashion house – and numerous projects with West, including designing some of his album covers – it took just three short years for Abloh to strike out on his own, first with a brand producing modified deadstock Ralph Lauren clothing under the name Pyrex Vision, and then in 2013 with Off-White, the label that propelled him to stardom.
Abloh’s architectural training provided another boon for him in the chance to study the work of Rem Koolhaas and OMA – huge influences, he says, that revealed to him the possibility to ‘combine sociopolitical thinking with design’. A keen sense of sociopolitical awareness certainly characterises the phenomenon that is OffWhite. The brand is known – in addition to its liberal use of shapes and symbols redolent of signage one might commonly see on the street, including black and yellow hazard stripes – for its trademark of adorning anything from T-shirts to tulle dresses with words and phrases captured in speech marks. These statements, at once decorative and provocative, are sometimes tongue-in-cheek (a wallet emblazoned with the words “For Money”) and sometimes not so (a T-shirt saying I Support Young Black Businesses featured in his autumn/winter 2020 collection), but make each piece a form of commentary on capitalist society in its own right.
Off-White’s own brand of sociopolitical thinking – its bold, often playful voice set among the po-faced seriousness of much of the luxury fashion world – might go some way to explaining its incredible popularity, particularly with millennials. The respected Lyst Index, a quarterly report that analyses the behaviour of millions of shoppers, has repeatedly ranked Off-White as the world’s hottest brand.
And Off-White’s star shows no sign of waning, not least because with its cult status has come the opportunity for countless collaborations, which Abloh moves through at an indefatigable pace. These come from all corners of the design world. A recent collaboration with Mercedes-Benz saw Abloh redesign the iconic G-Class vehicle, adding, among other typically Off-White details, bold yellow text to its newly enlarged tyres, and eyecatching red safety belts. A 2019 range of Off-White furniture for IKEA – that Abloh once described as an exercise in ‘democratic design’ – featured items including a