MILAN — Virgil Abloh has legions of loyal fans of his Off-White brand — customers who now will be even more front-and-center for the designer.
New Guards Group, the licensee of Off-White, is revealing a new calendar of product deliveries, more in sync with the seasons, which are sure to spark the customer’s interest, contended Andrea Grilli in an exclusive interview with WWD.
Grilli last September was named chief executive officer of New Guards Group’s operating firms: Off-White, Palm Angels, Ambush, Alanui, Opening Ceremony, Heron Preston, Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Kirin Peggy Gou and Ben Taverniti Unravel Project. He had joined the Milan-based holding company in 2015 as partner and chief commercial and merchandise officer. Before that he was brand director, head of merchandising and sales strategy at Kanye West Ltd.
The coronavirus pandemic has sparked some serious rethinking of the fashion system, with designers ranging from Giorgio Armani urging fashion to slow down and to realign collections with seasons in stores to Saint Laurent’s Anthony Vaccarello setting the brand’s own pace for showing collections for the duration of the year and, most recently, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele trimming the number of the brand’s shows to two a year.
Off-White, a fixture in Paris, will skip a show in September, said Grilli. The course will kick off in January with the spring 2021 season, a collection that will be launched in stores in February.
“The future of fashion should be experimental and relate to the new world. Off-White will continue to challenge the status quo and aim to showcase what a great creative industry the fashion industry can be,” Abloh told WWD.
Here, Grilli explains the reasons behind the brand’s new path.
WWD: Were these decisions accelerated by the pandemic or did they mature over time?
Andrea Grilli: We had been thinking for a long time of the relation between the deliveries of seasonal collections and the time frame when our consumers would actually buy them. We were also aware how deliveries were strongly linked with the commercial needs of some distribution channels and how brands had to comply with them. However, at the same time we realized that something had to change. So, if for many, the COVID-19 pandemic and the historical moment were reasons to think of different ways to approach the business, in our case we had been mulling these ideas for a while and the [health emergency] did not influence our decision to rethink our go-to market, aligning it with the purchasing moment and the wish to shop. Unfastening ourselves from the existing commercial boundaries, we grow our direct-to-consumer channels with more freedom to plan. In addition, starting in 2021 we have decided to adopt a full-price strategy, foregoing any markdown.
WWD: Technically, how is this different from the see-now-buy-now concept?
A.G.: The see-now-buy-now is much more extreme, while what we will do is to reduce as much as possible the gap between the moment of the presentation and that of the purchase, without damaging the quality of the product. The goal is to continue to trigger the emotions associated with the presentation of the collections — whatever the format — but also to immediately satisfy the desire to shop with deliveries and drops every month. In this fast-paced modern world, the lapse of four to five months between the show and the arrival of merchandise in stores was disconnected from the real needs of the consumer.
WWD: Do you already have indications in terms of locations, dates and formats?
A.G.: The rethinking of the dynamics offers us infinite opportunities and Virgil Abloh is already imagining how to leverage this situation, which will offer so many scenarios. Everything will obviously be in sync with the values and the DNA of the brand he has created. For sure, nothing will be a given.
WWD: When will this new course be effective?
A.G.: We will start with spring 2021. There will be no show in September and in January we will inaugurate the season and the new format, which will be followed by the launch of the products in stores starting already from February.
WWD: Will you eliminate other collections: pre-, resort or others?
A.G.: The framework of the sales campaign will not go through changes in terms of timing, since the wholesale channel will be able to have access to the collections in two precise moments of the year, concurrently with the February and September markets. The collections will be organized by monthly deliveries and the depth of assortment will offer different layers and allow to satisfy any commercial requirement, leaving all the creative space that Virgil Abloh will need.
WWD: How do you think to support the business and distribution?
A.G.: This new development and organization will represent a boost for the distribution, precisely because it will focus on the final consumer. Reducing from four months to one month the interval between the unveiling of a product and its availability in stores will increase curiosity. Everything will be supported by a timely multichannel marketing plan, which will inject energy into projects and shortening the waiting time will increase the engagement of consumers rather than the boredom.
WWD: Can you share Off-White’s revenues?
A.G.: As per our policy, we do not disclose our numbers. But surely we are aiming at an important growth on our digital channels (direct and operated by third-parties) and at retail, without neglecting our profitability.
WWD: What impact has COVID-19 had on business? What steps did you take to tackle the months to come?
A.G.: We started smart-working on Feb. 22, deciding to protect the health of our collaborators and employees even before the government’s decision to lock down the country [on March 9]. But the truth is that in NGG, we have also been working remotely and not necessarily meeting around a desk ever since 2013, following the example of our designers, dynamic pioneers in interacting on the different digital channels.
From a business point of view, fortunately, we found ourselves in this emergency when we were already up to speed in the integration of our business on the multimedia channels with Farfetch [that bought NGG last August], which brought us immediate benefits in terms of sales. So we have also taken advantage of the exponential online traffic growth as a response to the different lockdowns that gradually were affecting the world. To protect our bottom line, we took steps in terms of retail and optimizing marketing costs, as planned activities in the last three months were forced to slow down.
WWD: What is your view of all these changes in the industry? What has struck you the most? What do you believe is most urgent to face?
A.G.: I was impressed by a sentence that I read in an industry study, stating that from now on, “ethics will be equally important as aesthetics.”
Our attitude upstream as companies will determine the impact downstream. This unknown virus has reminded us how the behavior of the single impacts culture and group actions. The chain that starts from the product design and reaches the customer in stores must not be broken. Each single ring has equal value, especially the one that relates to the final customer.