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Sneaker Series: Off-White

Sneaker Series: Off-White

If there’s a formula for contemporary fashion success, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh has nailed it. But what is it that makes his sneakers so sh*t hot? What is the intangible ‘it’? Aside from the fact that ‘they’re just cool’ and we want to cop every pair of Off-White trainers as soon as they drop, there’s some serious creative strategy defining the brand’s output. Streetwear appeals to the tribal being in all of us. When you see a fellow hype-beast walking down the street in a pair of box-fresh 3.0s, you know he’s one of the clan. Equally, there’s something in our selective sociability and need to status-signal that makes the pull of flashing our insider style-knowledge through limited-edition and heavily branded gear impossible to resist. This has its extremes too – there is something joyous in an encounter with someone who isn’t au fait with Off-White. You know and they don’t, and therein lies the much-coveted exclusivity. Not to mention the fact that it’s almost impossible to get hold of the brand’s most sought-after sneakers before they sell out, never to be reissued. We pity the man that doesn’t get his drop-dates right. Hasn’t he heard of limited supply?

The sartorial code that creative director Virgil Abloh has created is instantly recognisable and seems to visually summarize the collective feeling of his target audience. At least, that’s what the hysteria over each sneaker release suggests. Its recognisability is a huge key to the brand’s success. Superficially, the Off-White logo and design signatures can be easily adopted by the wearer to become a part of their own style handwriting. The brand’s design and in turn the message is so strong that it morphs into a vehicle for self-identification and also a means of identifying others like (or unlike) us. It allows us to quite tidily align ourselves with the lifestyle, strictures and aesthetic that the brand represents. In the case of Off-White, it’s street-savvy, cash-wielding mega stars (inc. Kanye West and Skepta, both die-hard fans of the brand), an urban aesthetic, its runway status and a wearability that other high-fashion collections just don’t have.

On a deeper level (trust us, there is one), Off-White has a relevance and authenticity that a lot of brands lack or try unsuccessfully to fake (even worse.) Its disciples connect with it on a level that goes beyond product because Abloh is a genuine creative with a vision and purpose, something that often gets lost in the brutally commercial minefield that is fashion. That’s not to suggest that we’re naïve to the fact that Off-White is a behemoth in the industry. He’s just using his influence right and wants to create something actually good instead of something purely profitable, and unsurprisingly the former leads to the latter anyway. He’s also careful about how he addresses his following, and his savvy approach to social media sharing has allowed him and the brand to nurture a more meaningful relationship with their followers.

Oh, and then there is the product. From collaborations with Grog (manufacturers of *ahem * street art pens), to Paris’ most hyped runway shows, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh is responsible for both creating the current merch-obsessed fashion climate and for maintaining it. The brand walks the fine line (getting finer) between streetwear and luxury fashion, and has been pivotal to the shift we’ve seen towards urban and athletic trends as even fashion’s most established houses have started to produce street-inspired collections. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and Off-White’s success has been very much part of an industry-wide phenomenon. See: Demna Gvasala’s Balenciaga and Vetements, Gosha Rubchinisky, Gucci, Givenchy and Valentino.

Where Abloh and his contemporaries have led, others have followed, and no-one wants a poor imitation. We like to think of the creative director as a street-style savant that has opened up the previously closed doors of luxury fashion to redefine it for a younger, modern audience. Much in the way that social media has democratised the way in which we share and receive information (for better or for worse), Off-White and its high-fashion counterparts are symptomatic of a younger audience’s demand for style that is inclusive, wearable and innovative. God, we hate that word, but here it makes sense. Get your 3.0s while you still can.