MILAN — It’s a “super exciting” moment for Off-White, according to chief executive officer Andrea Grilli.
The brand, launched by Virgil Abloh in 2014, and its licensee New Guards Group have been through quite an evolution. “We’ve been setting up new divisions, with a stricter control of the brand and there’s been a shift from a wholesale to a direct-to-consumer distribution,” said Grilli in an exclusive interview, noting that Off-White has been shedding some of its streetwear associations developing “the new codes of luxury,” while focusing on “unexpected collaborations” and staying true to the essence and creativity of the brand.
Off-White has also gone through some major direct and indirect changes since its launch. As reported, in May LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton bolstered its relationship with Abloh beyond just the fashion division and the French luxury conglomerate raised its stake in Off-White LLC, the trademark owner of Abloh’s Off-White brand, to 60 percent. Abloh retained a 40 percent interest and remains creative director of the label. Abloh is also artistic director of men’s wear collections at Louis Vuitton, a post he has held since March 2018.
The Milan-based New Guards Group was sold to Farfetch in 2019 for $675 million and this was also a key element in Off-White’s evolution into a more digital brand. “Digital was our Achille’s heel,” recalled Grilli. Now, an increasingly fundamental element for business, this channel has seen a double-digit growth.
Off-White does not reveal financial details, but Grilli reiterated that the brand has the potential to reach revenues of 1 billion euros in a five to 10 year time frame. “We are on track to reach this goal,” he said, underscoring continued growth even through the pandemic year-on-year since 2019. “Off-White never stopped growing and this is a matter of pride and joy for Virgil,” Grilli said.
He touted the privilege of having “unbeatable leadership” at LVMH and Farfetch, which allows constant “learning lessons and constructive dialogues” with the likes of Michael Burke, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton, for example.
In the past 12 to 18 months, Off-White has been setting up new divisions and extending its product offer with new categories, such as homeware, children’s wear and eyewear, favoring quality over quantity, Grilli said. None of these are developed through licensing agreements, as is generally customary. New Guards Group has hired more than 100 people in the past year, with many working on Off-White, he said.
On the occasion of Milan Design Week, Off-White and Ginori 1735 presented a limited-edition capsule that previewed a more extensive partnership to be unveiled in April 2022. The capsule included a full tableware set with dinner plates, serving platters, a teapot and teacup saucer set in black and white graffiti-inspired decors.
“With Ginori, its artistic influences and storied expertise, there is an opportunity to further extend the Off-White lifestyle,” Grilli said. “We have always believed this was scalable, and two years ago, we tested the market with a few objects that sold out in a week. There was a gap that we knew we could fill. Virgil is a communicator and it’s never a one-way monologue; he listens to the consumers and their expectations.”
While growing Off-White’s online presence, Grilli has also been spearheading a physical retail development in main capitals, such as a flagship that opened in July in Paris, and in luxury resort locations, such as Sardinia’s Porto Cervo; Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany, and in Ibiza. Stores in Milan and Miami designed by Abloh and AMO, the research and design branch of architecture firm OMA, opened last year.
There are now 60 Off-White stores in the world and more openings are planned in 2022 and 2023 in the U.S. on both the East and West Coasts, said Grilli, citing Los Angeles in particular. Off-White has stores in New York, Miami and Las Vegas, and Grilli said, “America in the past year has surprised us. It has surpassed the 2019 volumes, supported by local shopping and events.” He characterized the brand’s markets as being balanced, with the Asia Pacific region, which includes Japan, accounting for almost 30 percent of business. China is “a priority,” he said and Off-White is also expanding in the Middle East, opening in Riyadh and in Kuwait, as well as in Russia, in Moscow.
The executive emphasized the need to become more “glocal” with relevant events in specific areas, and even more so after the pandemic. “Exclusive collections for single cities, micro capsules, destined to stimulate the store more than the city are key and offering an exclusive product to the consumer is a must.” Collaborations such as pairing with Nike are also incredible boosters, he said.
As reported, New Guards Group revealed to WWD last year that Off-White was adopting a new calendar of product deliveries.
Involving the entire pipeline, from the supply chain to marketing, this time-to-market strategy, though challenging, has been paying off with “excellent results,” Grilli said.
In February, Off-White staged a fashion show and live performances at a Milan industrial venue to reveal the spring 2021 collection through a global digital event, dubbed “Imaginary TV,” and skipped Paris Fashion Week, where it had regularly shown. In July, it returned to Paris staging its first physical runway event in 16 months with a performance by M.I.A.
Asked about the next step, Grilli demurred from revealing where and how the next Off-White collection will be shown. “We are working on the calendar and defining the show,” he said.
He said Off-White is also aiming for its women’s wear to become as relevant as its men’s ready-to-wear and that shoes and sneakers are among the most important categories for the brand.
Davide De Giglio holds the role of chairman and CEO of New Guards Group, which comprises brands such as Palm Angels, Ambush, Alanui, Opening Ceremony, Heron Preston, Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Kirin Peggy Gou and Ben Taverniti Unravel Project.