“Get your iPhones ready: the vibes are about to be immaculate,” the emcee announced at the start of the Off-White show in Paris on Sunday — the brand’s first physical runway event in 16 months.
As if on cue, the assembled phones rose for the first look: Bella Hadid in an ultra-short, electric blue velour tube dress and knee-high boots, marking the kickoff of a collection that signaled a more sophisticated direction for the brand. Back to business as usual? Not quite.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Off-White switched to a coed and see now, buy now model, and introduced a platform called Imaginary TV.
“It’s a mixed platform channel that merges together fashion, art and culture, not in individual silos for the sake of marketing, or just bringing energy, but truly Off-White representing artists,” creative director Virgil Abloh explained backstage.
“It started as just a TV station that I had guests perform on. Now, this is the 3D iteration, which is kind of like if you saw ‘SNL,’” he added. “I made a personal rule to myself that I will not continue just being on autopilot. For my own satisfaction, the format has to change.”
Welcome to the new generation of catwalk show: not just a platform for clothes, but also for performers — in this case, M.I.A., who has been absent from the stage for several years and performed a medley of her hits, including “Paper Planes,” backed by dancers.
“She’s an artist that’s known for speaking her stance on global issues and I wanted to make a safe space for her to do her art and pair it together with what Off-White stands for. It’s about representing a young generation, it’s not about selling clothes. Imaginary TV is my fashion communication system,” Abloh said.
Fortunately, his “Laboratory of Fun” show was also a feast for the fashion senses. Highlights included Amber Valletta in a teal leather miniskirt suit; Honey Dijon in an orange leather coatdress with monochromatic accessories, and Alton Mason in an oversized felt wool jacket with a custom print by Pablo Tomek.
While short of revolutionary, the lineup was a good reflection of the zeitgeist. Color and technical fabrics injected surface excitement into minimalist looks, while the men’s clothes borrowed from protective gear, from the hazmat-style hooded tops in safety yellow and orange, to a wearable quilt of a coat with a matching vest for extra padding.
Abloh has periodically steered the label on a more mature course, in an effort to shed its streetwear associations and anchor it in the luxury segment. This time, he drew inspiration from his background in architecture and recent collaboration with German electronics company Braun.
“Off-White is aging. I was given the torch of youthful fashion, what’s happening in the next generation, and I think in the last year I’ve aged the fastest that I ever could have,” the 40-year-old designer explained. “The brand in my mind should never be stagnant.”
Abloh has always surrounded himself with like-minded artists and collaborators. By positioning Off-White as a conduit for ideas, even as it pivots to a showcase for selling in-season collections, he’s managed to keep its cultural currency intact. Fashion as entertainment is clearly here to stay.