How Virgil Abloh Turned Diagonal Lines Into a Brand

Virgil Abloh's Off-White and the power of owning a common symbol.

Image via Off-White on Instagram

Typically, a brand creates a logo to stand out. That’s just smart business: It’s hard enough to be a fashion brand nowadays, let alone one that isn’t distinct and gets lost in the crowd. However, with his label Off-White, Virgil Abloh seemingly took some advice from LeBron James, and “fit-in” with his diagonal lines logo.

Abloh has used the common nature of his logo and his own Twitter feed to brand his label masterfully. For starters, if you’ve ever taken a journey on Abloh’s timeline you’ve likely seen the designer/DJ/creative director to Kanye West retweeting people who found IRL instances of his striped logo. The logo appears commonly on crosswalks, parking spots, no-parking areas, traffic signs, friendly posts, the middle of nowhere, and wherever the hell this is.

Departamento de Caaguazu, Paraguay @virgilabloh

— Billy (@billytrout_) June 18, 2016

“You're getting people to emotionally engage in the product,” Maria Pesin, CEO of Vibe Consulting and fashion industry branding and business building expert, told Complex. “People like to buy things from people who they feel a connection to. Creating that connection is always a smart idea, so you definitely want to do that. And the fact that someone famous like [Abloh] would think enough about what they tweeted to retweet it, gives them an ego boost so they get especially connected to what he's doing. It’s absolutely a great move.”

Constantly retweeting these people, and incentivizing them to do so, is smart in a couple of ways. “Maybe it's in lieu of doing ad campaigns or doing bigger marketing schemes to associate yourself with someone like that and get people involved,” Véronique Hyland, The Cut’s fashion news editor, told Complex. “If he has fans who are doing this, that's the goal: to mobilize people to do it.”

The other reason this is brilliant is that Abloh is associating himself and taking ownership of a very common symbol. And although putting yourself next to an image that already has its own connotations is a risky proposition, massive brands prove it can have a powerful effect.

“Look at Target, Target took a bulls eye—which is a very common symbol, and not unusual—and made it synonymous with Target,” Pesin said. “Look at Apple. Apple took an apple and made it iconic for them. Apple is American pie, an apple a day all, it means so many things to so many people. Yet, they were able to take an apple and make it iconic.”

And although Off-White isn’t, and likely never will be, on the level of a company like Apple or Target, that doesn’t really make a difference for Abloh’s purposes. “I don't think he needs to be the next Apple,” Pesin said. "When you're a smaller company, you don't need to have a base of followers of 10,000 to 100,000 people. That's not as meaningful as having a list of 1,000 people who are true fans.” And although fans of Abloh number in the 100,000s (he has 107k followers), the point sticks. Even if the general population doesn't recognize those diagonal stripes as Abloh’s, if his followers do, then he’s succeeded. Imagine hundreds of thousands of Off-White fans seeing diagonal lines all the time and automatically thinking of Abloh’s label. That’s extremely powerful because it can make the brand seem larger than it actually is. If consumers are inundated with imagery that brings Off-White top of mind, it inevitably will have a bigger impression on that person. 

This branding strategy is also helped by the fact that Abloh chose a symbol that makes sense for the rest of his brand. “He's played around with banal things before, like with the varsity letters and his takes on college sweatshirts,” Hyland said. “So I think he's interested in every day and utilitarian stuff.”

Let’s not forget that Abloh has honored the everyday working man in past collections. He named his Spring 2016 collection Blue Collar and even included a T-shirt in the collection printed with the words “Off-White Construction.”

“The image itself is a very modern image,” said Pesin, who, by the way, had no previous knowledge of Off-White and was gathering all this just from looking at the logo. “The way he does the stripes is very modern and has a very industrial feel, which is really good. The choice of the image was a good choice.”

The logo also allows Abloh to put forth his entire brand ethos in an incredibly snackable way. “He’s trying to use a classic motif,” Hyland said. “He has this very classic, sporty side to Off-White, and then there's the avant-garde thing in there, too. So there's the Ralph Lauren and the Raf Simons.” Above all, it’s become a brand entirely recognizable as his own: Virgil Abloh’s Off-White. 

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