The hitherto quiet building 268 Orchard Road is slowly turning to be a centre for alt-brands. Now, the all-glass entrance is flanked by two stores featuring labels that visitors to its neighbours—Robinsons Department Store on its left and the soon-to-open Apple flagship on its right—are not likely to desire with relish or open wallets. Joining Christian Dada, which opened about five months ago, is the luxury street-wear brand Off-White.
Born in 2014, Off-White is considered an Italian label by place of birth—Milan—rather than by nationality of its founder/designer Virgil Abloh, who is American. In Europe, the Chicago native is credited for upping the game for street wear by introducing the “luxe” (or, as Vogue described it, “elevated”) version of a category that, until now, has largely been snubbed by the couture-guarding establishment. In his homeland, Mr Abloh is possibly recognised more as a DJ/art director than a fashion designer. His art direction for the 2012 Jay Z and Kanye West album Watch the Throne received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package. He’s also known to be part of Kanye West’s inner circle, as well as on his payroll as creative director, a position that no doubt, influences the outcome of his employer’s Yeezy line.
It is perhaps to be expected then that you might think that Off-White is a blood brother of Yeezy. Thankfully, despite a shared genesis that can be traced to hip-hop, there’s no discernible spill over of the Yeezy aesthetics. It is also different from Mr Abloh’s first fashion venture, the mostly-T-shirt Pyrex Vision. Still, the reliance on rapper-preferred staples such as hoodies, track pants, and army-surplus separates feeds the average shoppers’ understanding of what Drake and Rihanna and co like to wear, however narrow the comprehension might be. While there is, to the fashion design purists, no real ‘design’, Off-White does pay considerable effort to product development. The clothes enjoy post-production effects such as washes and artificial ageing—the distresses that, for so many, are where the appeal of athleisure can be found.
The thing is, Off-White’s main man has yet to show convincingly that those designers related to the hip-hop scene rather than fashion can produce consistently innovative designs. These days, ‘design’, of course, needs to be redefined. The fundamentals may have not changed much but the approach has. Fast fashion is part of the re-writing of the definition, and many young designers who consume the end products lap up design seen through fast-fashion lenses. Mr Aboh’s “elevated” designs share much of this dynamic. Being a DJ, he can’t disconnect remixing from designing. The allure of bringing together disparate elements is so strong even outside music that many in the hip-hop business go into fashion as a natural progression of their careers.
The Off-White store at 268 Orchard Road also goes by the barely detectable moniker Window. Whether this is a window into a world of anything depends on what you desire to see. If it’s incredible newness that you’re hoping to uncover, then perhaps this is the wrong window to open. If it’s to witness what more can be done to street-wear standards, then perhaps, there’s something here that will titillate your yet-to-be satiated desire. The store was surprisingly busy on the Wednesday that we visited, and those that came did not come for what could be worn to a boardroom meeting or a wedding. A guy trying on a loose T-shirt clearly has a collector’s loot of HBAs at home.
The store, jointly designed by Mr Abloh and the New York architectural firm Family (that also, perhaps not coincidentally, designed Kanye West’s set of his 2013–14 Yeezus tour) and operated by D’League (the company behind the soon-to-be-revived Surrender), is essentially a space barely seduced by paint brush. Exposed concrete all-over is, of course, not new, but here, you feel that the interior is inspired by the set of Saw. From the main entrance (at the atrium of the building rather than from the street), you walk into a shoe-box shape sectioned into what could be rooms in full, bare-concrete glory. If you do not look beyond your immediate space, you’d miss them. These out-of-sight recesses have the advantage of luring you into believing that there are hidden gems to be found.
Counterpoint to the warehouse-bareness and greyness is a stretch of greenery in the middle of the store, where bamboo has a starring role under a make-belief skylight. A central park, if you will; an oasis, a sign of life, even when it looks clearly placed than planted. The hotel ballroom approach to greening may appear artificial, but it gives the severe and rather symmetrical space a softness that perhaps the clothes alone cannot.
Could this dense foliage be metaphor for something more natural and calm? For sure, fashion, of late, has not been that way. But maybe we’re reading too much into it. Beyond the bamboo, there are really just clothes—elevated, maybe, but not way up anywhere.
Off-White is at 268 Orchard Road. Photos: Galerie Gombak