byredo and off-white collaborate on fragrances, denim, t-shirts, and bags

With Elevator Music, fashion’s most prolific collaborator Virgil Abloh has worked with Ben Gorham’s perfume-based luxury house on a range of products that deliberately live in the background.

by Susie Lau
06 March 2018, 12:37am

Fashion Week in general is inundated with product. Everything you go to has product front and centre stage for the likes and swipes. And so to start a collaboration with the idea that the product is deliberately in the background -- the fashion equivalent of elevator music -- is bound to pique curiosity.

Ben Gorham, creative director of Byredo and Virgil Abloh of Off-White have been friends for nearly a decade and decided to cement their friendship with a collaboration that was unveiled over the weekend in Paris. It wasn’t one dreamt up by marketing execs or strategy teams, but instead over a fluid conversation of text messages and random meetings in hotel lobbies. “It all kind of solidified two years ago where we were having an idea about product being in the background,” Gorham explained. “How do we create product that lives in the background?” Abloh, together with Gorham, dubbed their collab Elevator Music. “It was a figurative phrase that helped describe leaving impression with minimal impact,” said Abloh.. “It was a good way of framing what we wanted to do.”

The central part of the project was a collaborative scent, which attempts to capture the essence of this background noise. “I was into a minimal approach towards scent,” Abloh explained. “I like scents that aren’t heavy-handed, and a bit more particular to the human when it’s on. That’s what we were focusing on -- something that is sort of incomplete until the wearer wears it.” With a base of burnt wood and top notes of midnight violet, it lingers, without overpowering the air. A capsule collection of denim, graphic T-shirts and bags that combined both Off-White’s ticker tape branding with Byredo’s geometric structured bags also augment the collaboration. As a physical installation at a gallery in Paris, Elevator Music also incorporates an installation by the Carsten Höller, another mutual friend of Abloh and Gorham, where the feeling of being in limbo manifests in two LED screens, projected with rising dots that play like a conceptual lift in a boutique hotel.

The interesting aspect of the collaboration (seeing as the product isn’t the main focus, we’re told) is the meeting of two unconventional creators who have come up through the ranks of their respective worlds of beauty and fashion unexpectedly. Their common ground informs Elevator Music in its output and how it is presented. “When we looked at our respective industries -- beauty and fashion -- it was quite conservative and there was a framework that we didn’t quite understand,” Gorham explained. “Lacking the training or formal schooling, we were able to define new approaches. We share that idea that rules don’t really apply to us. We’ve found great inspiration in having a dialogue with people, and not being the brand that tells people what to do, what to wear or how to wear it,” he added. “We think without limits,” added Abloh, providing the perfect soundbite. “Boxes don’t exist anymore,” Gorham added.

Breaking out of the product categorisation boxes that are standard in both industries is partially why Gorham launched leather goods and eyewear in the last two years and why he’ll be eventually add make-up and colour under the Byredo belt too. And likewise, Abloh has been turning his hand to collaborating with everyone from Takashi Murakami to Nike to the Paris-based health café, Wild and the Moon (Off-White spirulina water anyone?).

On his multi-genre multi-faceted approach, Abloh is also effusive on the idea of possibility rather than restrictions when it comes to creation. “Every collaboration I do meets a very strict internal checklist. The ones I say no to, are the ones that don’t come out. I feel like those restrictions about what a designer should or shouldn’t do are from a previous era. If it’s authentic, I can see it as a worthwhile exercise.”

The two do diverge when it comes to the pace of creation. “We’re very different in that Virgil can thrive in the pace of fashion,” Gorham noted. “He’s wired in a way where he can thrive in that. Byredo’s approach towards accessories and fragrance is much more static. I’m a fan of fashion but I also have a respect for it in knowing that I couldn’t do that job.” And for Abloh, what’s next on the Off-White universe agenda? The genesis of more collaborations evidently. “Off-White is a construct. It’s a brand that evolves. It’s more rooted in all aspects of lifestyle. These collaborations are ways for me to initiate ideas that I can further develop.”

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.