PARIS — Move over, Valentino Pink PP. The new shade in town is Off-White Blue.
For his first collection as art and image director of the brand, Ib Kamara chose a signature color that he hopes will become synonymous with the label. In a preview, he said he wanted to create a “blue universe” for the spring 2023 show, which was titled “Celebration” in homage to founder Virgil Abloh, whose death last year at the age of 41 shocked the industry.
“We’re embracing blue as a color in the brand and it’s something we are passionate about as we move forward,” he told WWD. “Blue is otherwordly. It’s alien, but it’s human. It’s explorative. It’s a vulnerable color.”
It’s the vibrant shade of blue that Abloh chose for the cover of “Figures of Speech,” the book he published in 2019 to coincide with his first solo exhibition, held at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. It was also the color he selected to open his fall 2021 Off-White show, with an electric blue velour dress and boots worn by Bella Hadid.
Off-White, which shot its fall campaign in Morocco’s “blue city” of Chefchaouen, is in the process of registering the hue with Pantone. It’s part of the new chapter spearheaded by Kamara, who vowed to keep alive Abloh’s community spirit and inclusive vision.
“He really created conversation and disruption in the most beautiful way, so there’s evidence of that in this collection, I think,” he said. “I feel incredibly inspired and empowered by the tools that Off-White provides to continue the dream and continue to create a conversation.”
For his debut show, Kamara devised an immersive performance with afro-punk band Tshegue, who provided the soundtrack; Cape Verdean dancer and choreographer Nicolas Huchard, who worked on Jean Paul Gaultier’s “Fashion Freak Show” cabaret and Madonna’s “Madame X” tour, and London-based filmmaker Stephen Isaac Wilson.
“It’s a community effort to bring it all to life. It’s a real collective of people working to fulfill this vision,” Kamara said of the event, which took place on the eve of what would have been Abloh’s 42nd birthday.
“Off-White started as a community, and a sort of community brand. It’s a brand that empowers people, and I think the clothing should be able to do that. It’s a luxury house, and we want to be able to create our own language and reinvent our own language, our own codes, moving forward,” Kamara added.
Guests including Naomi Campbell, Erykah Badu and Winnie Harlow were bathed in blue light at the show, held at a theater in the north of Paris. Projected on a white cube in the middle of a blue carpet was a video showing men painted in blue lounging in front of doors, a prelude to a performance where the dancers had their faces painted blue to match their catsuits.
After last season’s runway extravaganza for Off-White, featuring a lineup of the world’s top models and celebrity guests including Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, this felt like a reset. The casting consisted almost exclusively of new faces to keep the attention on the clothes.
Kamara was inspired by the human body for the coed collection, which featured a plethora of anatomical details, ranging from laser-printed skeleton patterns on denim jackets and pants, to body-con knits with cording appliqué, and suits with female torso motifs stitched in white thread.
Flowers were another key theme, with silk organza looks sprouting three-dimensional petals. “The body is very fragile. I see it as a flower,” Kamara explained.
Some of the tailored looks were deconstructed to expose lining fabric, pins and stitching. “It’s like it’s a work in progress, so we’re working toward something, and I think humans, we’re all a work in progress. That’s the feeling,” he said.
One of Abloh’s close collaborators, Kamara was born in Sierra Leone, taking refuge with relatives in Gambia during the country’s 11-year civil war, before settling in London when he was 16. He juggles his position at Off-White with the role of editor in chief of Dazed, as well as styling campaigns and shows for clients including Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
Kamara shares Abloh’s multihyphenate approach and restless energy, traveling regularly from his home base to the Milanese headquarters of Off-White, which is majority owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and licensed to New Guards Group, the Italian holding company that also operates brands such as Palm Angels and Ambush.
“I don’t know how I do it, but we keep going. I’m dedicated to all the things that I’m involved in, so I make time for them,” Kamara demurred.
“I’m between London and Milan, but I have a very good routine that works for me in terms of the amount of hours I work a day, the time I wake and go to bed. I’ve had to be very disciplined. There’s not enough time in 24 hours, but I make use of every single moment of it,” he added.
Kamara is known for work that explores gender codes, queerness and Black identity, all themes that Abloh, known as “V” to his inner circle, brought from the sidelines to the center of the luxury conversation. Born in Rockford, Illinois, to Ghanaian immigrant parents, Abloh championed Black talent and created a scholarship fund for Black fashion students.
“I’m bringing my African point of view,” said Kamara. “I’m bringing a community point of view and my musical point of view, which I think was ingrained in Off-White before. There are many more elements, but I think some of those elements were already being investigated by V, so it’s a continuation of some of those conversations.”
The soundtrack of the show incorporated traditional African instruments and drums.
“A beautiful thing that V did was [that he said] luxury doesn’t have a color, it’s for everyone, and he really investigated that to the very end. This is the legacy you see on runways and on catwalks and front rows. It’s opened up to communities globally, and everyone feels like they can dream enough to be part of that spirit,” Kamara explained.
With Imaginary TV, the mixed platform channel that Off-White launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand plans to continue showcasing talents and fostering inclusive environments. “It’s about representing a young generation, it’s not about selling clothes. Imaginary TV is my fashion communication system,” Abloh told WWD at the time.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to an abortion, the brand reissued a T-shirt from a 2017 partnership with artist Jenny Holzer that was gifted to guests at the show. It will also be available for sale in a limited edition of 500, with 100 percent of proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.
“I think a brand is beyond the product,” Kamara said. “It can be human, it can touch you. It can make you feel something.”
He noted that the doors featured in the show symbolized the way Abloh created opportunities for youths worldwide. “V pioneered a young generation to really believe that they can be something, they can dream and they can be good at many other things than just something society tells them they have to do,” Kamara said.
“The beauty of working at Off-White is the potential of how far we can dream here. It’s big and we’re going to continue to dream bigger and bigger,” he pledged.