Highsnobiety

In its 50-plus-year history, Vans has grown from a DIY skate shoe manufacturer into a global sports powerhouse favored by skaters, sneakerheads, mums, celebrities, and models alike. Its signature silhouettes are literal canvases for expression and have attracted a list of collaborators that reads like the who’s who of fashion. Supreme, Fear of God, Gucci, Tyler the Creator, Hermès… You name it, Vans has probably collaborated with them.

But where does a brand that’s so popular and accomplished go next?

Atiba Jefferson, Atiba Jefferson

Last week, during Paris Fashion Week, we got a glimpse into the future of Vans through its newly launched OTW category. OTW (which is read as O-T-W but stands for Off The Wall) is Vans' new pinnacle category, which will encompass products, collaborations, and community activations. Launching in early 2024, it replaces Vault by Vans and other premium sub-categories and refocuses the brand's pinnacle into a more considered and true-to-its-roots direction.

“[OTW] is really a point of view and distinct mindset, how we approach the future and not just from a product expression, but also from an experience standpoint,” explains Ian Ginoza, who joined Vans this spring to lead the creative direction for OTW. “The creative direction for OTW is entitled Checkered Future, and it's really about Vans' history,” he continues. “Vans was first adopted by the pioneers and trailblazers of skateboarding, and those early pioneers had a checkered past. They were risk-takers, and they really pushed boundaries and edges and broke old conventions while creating new ones. We wanted to take that original spirit and mindset into this of Checkered Future."

OTW will be, first and foremost, about products, and house all high-level collaborations and experimental designs. Meanwhile, a second new line, titled Premium Standard, will serve elevated takes on Vans’ classics. Dylan Petrenka, design director of OTW footwear, shares: “One of the things we're excited about with OTW is pushing into places that we haven't been before. We really wanted to emphasize this idea of creative exploration without any boundaries, and rooting it in what we do in skateboarding. If it's not a skateboarding function, it's a skateboarding attitude."

Vans has and always will be deeply rooted in skateboarding. The brand made this clear at the OTW launch at Paris Fashion Week by erecting a massive skate park on the bank of the Seine. With the sun setting behind the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, Beatrice Domond, Zion Wright, and other members of Vans’ team skated into the evening to the sounds of Onyx Collective and King Krule. Over 600 guests came by, including Lourdes Leon, Shane Gonzales, Amelia Gray Hamlin, Evan Mock, and Avatar star Sam Worthington.

The eclectic mix of skaters, creative vanguard, and Hollywood A-listers who dropped in for the launch of OTW speaks to Vans’ mass reach. There is indeed a certain “je ne sais quoi” about Vans' down-to-earth SoCal character and easy-to-wear designs that makes it appeal to so many. Carving out a new pinnacle category will, however, ensure that the brand continues to create heat through a more progressive offer. “We established a clear objective at the beginning of these projects. On the new classics build, there is a team working to make sure that every detail from the OG iterations that people loved is maintained. And then on others, [we're] not as obligated to the past and more just trying to push into the future with the mindset of our origins rather than literal aesthetics or iconography.”

Highsnobiety, Highsnobiety

When it comes to collaborators, Vans is taking a more thought-through approach than it has previously. "The collaboration space has become so homogenous these days and quite convoluted," says Ginoza. "I think brands use these partnerships as conduits to communities, but a lot of times, the brand fit just isn't there. We don’t want to do that.” Los Angeles-based artist, designer, and former skateboarder, Sterling Ruby of S.R. STUDIO LA. CA. by Sterling Ruby, is the first collaborator to be announced.“Sterling Ruby is a great example of the pedigree and the types of partners that we'll be working with in the future. We're building more of a collective where we want them to be kindred to one another. In a word, I would say the partnerships are a lot more considered. They should be special." The partnership with Ruby consists of 25 unique pairs of sneakers that have been put through an industrial drum with rocks and other objects to create a worn effect. Each pair is one-of-a-kind and will be available to friends and family only. Lucky for us, though, the partnership is slated to continue.

The OTW offering is under wraps until 2024, but we know to expect something new and unseen from Vans. Ginoza confirms, "In order to really push the boundaries, you have to step over that line and you have to take those risks; you have to push to really understand how far you can go. From the humble beginnings of skateboarding many years ago to where it is right now, that particular community and culture has really done that.”

Follow @otwbyvans for the latest from OTW.

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