The gig eventually went to Clare Waight Keller, formerly of Chloé , but it made for an interesting proposition, bearing in mind that Virgil was essentially still a very new name on a very competitive block. “My idea was always to bring what was happening in subcultures, what was brewing in LA, New York, this American contribution, to fashion. I wanted to bring that to high fashion, which is Paris. Streetwear at that time was, and still kind of is, undefined. I saw it as an opportunity to define it,” he says of Off-White’s inception.
“Off-White embraces contradictions. The name is self-implied, stuck between two things and I make an effort to never be too distinct, or never shy away from contradictions. It could be luxury, it could be street, it could be high street, it could be high fashion, or high art or something normal people can relate to, but that middle ground makes it real,” he elaborates. “I think in fashion that’s what streetwear or normcore is; we’ve seen the end of the glamourfied thing. We want something real. My idea is not to be real or sort of imaginary; it’s to find my own middle ground and that middle ground is my thumb print – what makes my work.”
Virgil cites Kris Van Assche, his first menswear show especially, and Phoebe Philo at Céline, as his fashion heroes, both having contributed to him seeing fashion in a different light. “I’m forever impacted by [Philo’s] work. She’s made a modern interpretation of what luxury can mean so she extended the definition of luxury in terms of fashion.” To that he adds his high school years – he was always into niche culture, as he puts it. “Music obviously.” A mix of rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop, as well as skateboarding. “So those different themes were my early impressions, like streetwear. That formulated a lot of my opinion on how clothing could be worn and how clothing is tied to a niche culture.”
A Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin came next, followed by a Master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Then along came the fashion, really.
And his is a name and a brand that can be bunched into something of a fashion moment and movement back in 2015 when a group of young designers and labels injected new blood into Paris. Around two years ago and the City of Light was the time of Vetements, and consequently the new Balenciaga, of Y/Project, of new names at older houses – a shift in who was shaping the fashion landscape now.