Six store closures in mainland China: Off-White after Virgil Abloh

    Once top of the Lyst Index, the luxury house is struggling to maintain its market positioning, especially in China, where it was once a favorite.
    As a brand known for logo-heavy collections, Off-White is struggling to carve an identity in the quiet luxury era. Image: Off-White
      Published   in Fashion

    Ringleader of the passé logomania trend, Off-White’s decline is becoming increasingly apparent in China.

    The Virgil Abloh-founded brand officially exited Beijing in March this year with the closure of its Xidan Lao Feng Xiang department store counter. It followed the shuttering of Off-White’s only other store in the city, at Sanlitun Taikoo Li, in March last year.

    The latest closure follows the shuttering of four brick-and-mortar stores in Chengdu, Xian, and Shanghai. There are now just three Off-White stores left in the mainland: in Hangzhou, Shanghai, and Sanya.

    On a global scale, the brand contributed to operator New Guards Group’s whopping 40% YoY decline in revenue in the three months ending June 30, 2023.

    Fall from grace#

    Between 2017 and 2020, various leading fast fashion retailers produced knock-offs of the industrial Off White belts, and many a European art school alumni would proclaim that the brand was adored by Chinese international students, along with the likes of then equally logomanic names Balenciaga and Vetements.

    Industrial belts were one of the most spotted street style accessories back in 2019. Image: Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images
    Industrial belts were one of the most spotted street style accessories back in 2019. Image: Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

    In Q3 2018, Off-White was named the “hottest brand on the planet” by Lyst, and managed to maintain that positioning for several quarters. Yet, by 2021, it had stumbled out of the index altogether, and it has not made a return since

    Head to Xiaohongshu or Weibo, where the brand hashtag #Offwhite has 49.3 million reads and 100 million reads, respectively, and you are met mainly with shots of sneakers. Abloh’s design legacy beyond footwear collaborations has slipped.

    In 2024, Off-White is more associated with footwear than high fashion, having only returned to Paris Fashion Week in February 2024.

    While other emerging luxury streetwear brands such as Mowalola, Martine Rose or Wales Bonner are thriving, Off-White seems to be losing relevance rapidly.

    Street style outside the Off-White PFW return in February 2024. Image: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
    Street style outside the Off-White PFW return in February 2024. Image: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

    Key person risk#

    Sneakerhead Chris Colgan says that Abloh’s passing in November 2021 has had a seismic impact on the value of the brand in resale terms.

    “Especially when it comes to collaborations with Nike. They have done these awkward Air Force 1 Mids with spiked rubber bottoms that all sell below retail on the after-market. Also, the Jordan collaborations are starting to come down in price at resale – they’re almost crashing at this point.”

    Despite Nike being the main collaborator for Off-White, Colgan dubs the co-created products as “irrelevant in the sneaker community.

    Other than the three-year AC Milan partnership that debuted in 2022, the brand has been slow with new collaborations. However, there are rumors that LVMH has been in talks to acquire Off-White’s licensing rights, which could foreshadow a different future for the brand’s crossovers.

    From Ikea to Kering-owned Italian crockery favorite Ginori 1735, Abloh’s flow of collaborations were disruptive and projected thoughtful design, when he was alive.

    Off-White CEO said in an interview that the creative director had left ideas behind, so it is not that the luxury house was left without his influence when he passed.

    This demonstrates how significant a celebrity creative director can be – Off-White was ultimately merchandise for the creative genius of Abloh. He cultivated a fanbase and those consumers bought into the culture that he championed.

    That, along with the soaring popularity of quiet luxury, which arrived as an antithesis to streetwear’s logomaniac surge, has propelled Off-White’s decline. Prada and Miu Miu have overtaken the likes of Gucci and Balenciaga, and Off-White’s industrial belts, once status symbols, are listed on resale sites for $20 (145 RMB). Brands are as successful as their relevance in the zeitgeist, perhaps Off-White's next it-brand era is approaching when consumers tire of quiet luxury, but can it hold out until then?

    • Off-White has significantly reduced the number of stores it is operating in mainland China from 9 to three, completely exiting Beijing in March this year.
    • The brand's heyday was circa 2018 to 2021, then following the passing of creative director and founder Virgil Abloh, it has struggled to maintain its hyped reputation, consequently declining dramatically.
    • As ever, creative directors are evidently instrumental to a brand's success, not just in terms of design but also due to their celebrity status and fan-base.
    • Leveraging the influence of celebrity creative directors can significantly impact a brand’s culture and fanbase, but brands must also adapt to changing trends, such as the shift towards quiet luxury, to stay relevant.
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