Illinois native Virgil Abloh studied civil engineering and architecture before entering fashion as creative director for Kanye West. He led the 2010’s athleisure charge as founder and creative director of luxury streetwear brand Off-White, which continues to evolve and strengthen its relevance on the catwalk and its position in the world of luxury fashion.
The 2010s may not belong to Virgil Abloh’s label Off-White, but the designer has perhaps done more than anyone else in that time to popularize a shift in runway fashion from a strictly formal, dress-up affair to a more democratic, media-savvy social hybrid of traditional styling and street-centric looks.
The term ‘athleisure’ may have since become rather antiquated, but not before the likes of Balenciaga, Gucci, Burberry and Armani have expanded their own seasonal collections to currently feature complex and architecturally-inspired sports dresses and jackets (that run away from formality altogether) and asymmetrical multi-fabric and concept pieces that blaze through ‘formal’ styling to leave the blueprint in shreds.
Abloh’s approach hasn’t won friend’s everywhere, and neither is the look wholly his: designers like Raf Simons also mash languid luxury silhouettes with pop-culture-referencing prints and pop-art inspired colours, while Martin Margiela will deconstruct and rebuild outfits with greater complexity and a keener sense that the rules are to be toyed with.
But Abloh has better grasped the impact that collaborations (with innumerable premium and sportswear brands) have in shaping – via social media – the opinions and choices of cash-rich or aspiring millennials. Earlier designs beg the question, “Will it last?” and simultaneously answer with dresses and jackets that bravely traverse the moment. In recent seasons Off-White has consolidated and strengthened with asymmetry and lines that play the power game proper. In keeping with Abloh’s current role as Creative Director of Louis Vuitton Menswear – the stakes have risen.
OFF-WHITE LIQUID MELT WAVES DRESS
The Resort 2021 collection is the origin of the Liquid Melt Waves dress. Working with fashion stylists Ib Kamara and bringing the men’s and women’s collection into unison were noticeable in sharper composite creations, ascending even to Thom Browne levels of Manhattan-formality (long pink socks notwithstanding).
At first sight, the Wave Dress is something drawn, not from Abloh’s industrial design background, but from yoga/gym stock. It’s unmistakably Off-White, though, advancing a high impact solo pattern, emphasizing length (not bust or hips) and adjunct fabric cuts (facing left sleeve and right hem).
It’s cyberpunk by heritage, favouring (as the runway stylist had it) a black bag and a baseball cap with a little gold jewellery that talks more Bronx than posh Manhattan—saying that the pink (virtually floral) pattern works well with darker skin tones to create a more serious and sensual façade.
OFF-WHITE LINEN SKIRT LIGHT BLUE
If not the prototypical Off-White number (asymmetrical alignment, subtle but present architectural lines and muted street-worthy tones), then certainly a sober representative of the athleisure decree. Hybridization is the mantra, and the likes of Sacai or Ambush have now moved the look into conversations about high intricacy and high impact. What’s great with the Off-White skirt is that –owing to the simplicity of colour, design and pattern, as well as a subtle logo imprint – you can take it in whatever urban fusion/work fusion directions you like. Yes, post-gym is the obvious space: architecture pumps, a skinny white t-shirt, carry-all and covert shades. Keep the shades and t-shirt, ditch the bag and try strapped on high heels for an instant upscale amendment to your shifting itinerary.
OFF-WHITE KNIT MINI SKIRT
Off-White doesn’t shy from a mini. This may surprise, given the brand’s obvious allusions to cross-gender and cross-platform styling and its moves away from conventional, ‘male gaze’ silhouettes. But Off-White combines the sporty and urban nature of a mini; the logo waistband holding those white stripes in line before they flair and fold slightly at the thigh, and black & white plus lines – even minus the logo – are the brand’s street-smart marker.
For a casual ensemble, an oversized boyfriend-sweater worn loose or tucked into the elasticated strap works a treat with either pumps, flats or heels. Strictly speaking, the tighter the top (slim tank or shrink-hugging V-neck, for example), the stricter the look.
Pleated folds always create a slightly collegiate impression, so above-the-knee socks are worth a shot with a boxier shoulder bag to consolidate this.
The Off-White colour rule is essentially one or two matching colours for the ensemble before drastically contrasting with a bold primary in the sweater or shoes, for example.
OFF-WHITE BLACK NYLON SKIRT
Sportiness initially exemplified in a black nylon skirt that first entered orbit in a Spring 2020 Ready to Wear collection. That show saw Abloh turn down some of the hype-beast-aligned bombast and colouring for (actually) more sharply defined items. The theme then was ‘Meteor Strike’, and it’s evident in the directional ‘star map’ design and cut of this slim black number.
Once again, themes of asymmetry and architectural lines are at the fore, but they add up to a sleek and controlled piece that is given extra presence with the monochrome colouring. You can wear this as a post-gym item, but adding more black via shirt or t-shirt creates sleek uniformity and an avant-garde presence, with black or day-glow (light blue or green) heels respectively completing or stealing the picture.
MOVING ON AND UP IN OFF-WHITE
Off-White has a reputation as an athleisure ‘watershed’ brand, and indeed Virgil Abloh’s label has played a major part in popularising a look that is a hybrid between the active gym, street and work clothing. Most other luxury and premium brands (and the public) have caught up with the trend, and it’s fine if you want to rock your Off-White branded dress to your scheduled workout or equally choreographed Zoom conference. But the brand, like Abloh in his current role with Louis Vuitton, has moved on to become a more intelligent runway presence, more subtly but astutely aligning street and work-focused modes. Look to the catwalk (and even to those LV menswear silhouettes) to see how to set up and transcend in an Off-White outfit.