The passing of Virgil Abloh, on November 28th 2021, marked perhaps one of the most significant closing of a chapter in recent fashion history. Not only had two houses – Louis Vuitton, the brand where he served as the artistic director of menswear for a prolific three year stint, and Off-White™, the house he founded in 2012 – lost their leader, but the horizons of fashion and visual culture had notably dimmed, bereft of one of its brightest stars.
A term that has never been used in the conversations dealing with the absence he left behind is ‘replacement’ — indeed, an impossible task. Rather, the challenge was to find a creative mind of similarly expansive and innovative nature to carry his legacy forward. At Off-White™, this task has fallen in the capable hands of Ib Kamara, the acclaimed stylist, Dazed editor-in-chief, and long-standing collaborator of Virgil’s.
His first collection as Image and Art Director of Off-White bowed in September 2022, during the SS23 run of shows in Paris. Titled “Celebration”, it offered exactly: a proud reminder of the extensive vocabulary that Virgil developed during his lifetime, buoyed by the vision that Ib intends to flesh out during his tenure in his chapter at the brand’s helm. A masterful exercise in vivid storytelling — and a welcome reminder of its power at a time when fashion increasingly errs toward predictable and safe – it spanned cut-and-spliced motodresses with lace-panelled navel cutouts, slinky, diaphanous ribbed knit dresses slung over hooded boleros, and a modest bridal gown, redolent of the sort worn by Muslim brides in parts of West Africa – in tumbles of floral lace, all filtered through the collection’s signature warm “Impossible Blue” hue.
Fusing speculative sci-fi motifs, an unabashed sensuality and handwrought romance it was a testament to Ib’s honed eclecticism; his capacity to combine and recontextualise references in such a specific manner that they culminate in something entirely innovative and new. Below, we sit down with the polymathic creative to discuss the challenge of carrying forward Virgil’s legacy, the power of dreaming and the central role of Africa in Off-White™’s future.
Mahoro Seward: What does Off-White™ represent to you?
Ib Kamara: Above all, Off-White™ represents community and innovation. When I think of how Virgil founded the brand, there was always a sense of coming together. It’s really about thinking, innovation and progression, and it’s’s always had a positive, joyful approach. That’s why it’s a brand everyone is rooting for.
When you were contemplating the ethics and values you wanted to carry forward in your chapter of Off-White™, what first came to mind?
Well, diversity and inclusion are pillars of the brand, and so is a sense of self-expression and innovation. Off-White™ has always been inherently forward-thinking, and that’s something I want to continue pushing as we develop our craftsmanship, too. Ultimately, though, I really wanted to keep Virgil’s legacy and vision intact.
What challenges have you encountered in navigating how to respect Virgil’s vision, and maintain its integrity, while also creating a new chapter for the brand?
Well, one thing that Virgil and I really shared was a childlike inquisitiveness. The way I look at creativity is like a child -- it has endless possibilities – and I think that’s why I think we worked well together. We were both very optimistic people who believed that nothing was impossible when it came to creating. That’s something I’ll carry forward in my tenure at Off-White™. But there are things that I naturally bring to the brand. I’m from Africa, so there’s always going to be a sense of Africanness to my work. And I also love sci-fi and technology, beauty and romance. At heart, I’m interested in finding ways to look at all of these things that I find beautiful, and mash them all together.
Community is another key pillar of the brand. What would you say is the thread that draws the Off-White™ community together?
Music is hugely important, but it’s also a love for fashion, for newness and for innovation. Off-White™ is for people who are open-minded, and that think innovatively. It’s for people who love dreaming and storytelling. Which is to say that it’s for everyone. It speaks to different people in so many different ways, but you connect to it, you become it – and it’s not just about wearing the clothes.
On the topic of music, what does your Off-White sound like?
There’s definitely punk core to it, but that’s suffused with hip hop, a sense of romance, as well as African takes on pop and rock... I listen to so many different genres of music, and I always want to make sure my shows I do convey that energy, with all these elements converging to create a new community of sounds.
Punk, romance and dreaming have always been hallmarks of your work -- I’m thinking, for example, of Soft Criminal, the collection and exhibition you presented at Red Hook Labs in New York. Generally in fashion right now, people are talking so much about a return to sobriety and pragmatism. Your proposal for Off-White™, however, feels totally removed from that.
Why do you think fantasy and world-building are so important right now?
Well, I’m African, and I think that one thing all Africans have is a sense of dream, hope, and what’s next. I don’t want to kill that part of me just because I live in the West. And Off-White™, by definition, can’t be an introverted. It’s a product and expression of a community, and it’s a product of youthful thinking, which, typically, doesn’t toe the line. It’s fearless. It’s innovative and experimental.
Africanness, and your pride in it, has also always made itself felt very strongly in your work. Generally speaking, conversations around Africa and African cultural narratives in fashion have become increasingly nuanced.