Long before he’d create Off-White, Virgil Abloh was studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison followed by a Masters program in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. After a brief stint at an architecture firm, he launched the Chicago art gallery and streetwear boutique RSVP Gallery in 2009. It was at this time that he met Kanye West and became his right-hand man—working for his multi-faceted design agency, Donda. At Donda, he created the sets for many of Kanye West’s tours as and designed the cover art for West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne record.
In 2013, Abloh left Donda briefly to create a new streetwear project called Pyrex Vision that would set the groundwork for Off-White. For the first and only collection, Abloh used Champion sweats and tees as well as polo and flannel shirts from Ralph Lauren’s Rugby line. The reused materials were decorated with graphic prints that read ‘Pyrex 23’ as well as images of Caravaggio’s painting ‘Entombment of Christ’ and resold for up to $550.
One year after his infamous Spring/Summer 2013 collection, Pyrex Vision returns under the name Off White c/o Virgil Abloh. While no official explanation is offered, it’s rumored that the change was prompted by legal action from the famous Pyrex kitchenware brand and controversy over his reuse of other labels’ apparel. The rebranded multi-platform creative platform is based out of Milan and defined by Abloh as: “the gray area between black and white as the color Off-White.”
At a lecture at Columbia University in 2017, Abloh described one of his core aesthetic elements as “everything in quotations.” This principle is apparent in the physical and aesthetic elements of the brand, which make heavy use of references and often take familiar concepts and reinterpret them in new ways—a move that often prompts calls of plagiarism and unoriginality. Physically, the quotation marks are used literally around familiar words, like his collaboration with the Air Jordan 1 sneaker that featured a graphic print on the heel that read: “AIR.”
Abloh is no stranger to collaborations but few have sparked as many conversations as the ones with IKEA and Nike. In 2017, he teamed up with Nike for a project called The Ten, which saw him recreate ten of the shoemaker’s iconic silhouettes. Last year, Abloh also unveiled products from his IKEA collab that included slogan-covered rugs, a cabinet for storing sneakers, and a reimagined wooden chair with a bright red doorstop called Door Stop Interruption. Other Off-White collaborations include Levi, Jimmy Choo, Moncler, Browns, Warby Parker, SSENSE, Sunglass Hut, Champion, Converse, Dr. Martens, Barneys New York, Umbro, Timberland, Takashi Murakami, Heron Preston, ASAP Rocky, Byredo, Boys Noize and Le Bon Marché.