There is no doubt that there are just two legitimate pretenders to the iron throne of streetwear and they are Kanye West and Virgil Abloh

Their brand, respectively Yeezy, and Off-White revealed themselves to be two game-changing high street end realities, capable to have a huge impact on both pop-culture and fashion industry. It is not even capable to think about contemporary streetwear, without instantly thinking about these two brands. A huge success has always an interesting story behind. The stories of the two entrepreneurs have a lot in common. To eviscerate and analyze similarities and differences of this two rising high-street-end empires is the best way to understand deeply the reason of their success and the meaning of their strong influence on the masses.

 

#1 The cult of personality

Both the designers have built a devoted cult around their persona. Yet while Kanye was already Yeezus- the self-proclaimed God rapper- even before starting his own fashion designer career, Virgil have been capable to progressively build his personal cult step by step, alongside the success of his brand. Also, the way they chose to present themselves to the public is antithetical.

Kanye's persona is mainly built on exaggeration: scandals, provocations and self-conscious-arrogant rhetoric. Virgil instead based his whole persona on genuine coolness and the enlightened entrepreneur stereotype. If Kanye is more focused on being capable of generating a huge amount of hype surrounding everything he does or says, Virgil is concentrated on building a strong reputation around himself and his work. Two opposite ways of strategically operating for the same result a non-stop growth in brand awareness and sales.

 

#2 The strong visual identity

Today to become relevant a brand must be recognizable.
Both Yeezy and Off-White have their own signature style. Then if Yeezy founded his recognizability on the essential silhouettes and on its typical monochrome color palette, both details that recall 90's fashion minimal movement, brands such as Helmut Lang, Margiela and Jil Sander are the main references behind the brand, Off-White made of iconic visuals and graphics its gravity center and extended its line starting from there. Today both the brands are extremely recognizable, also thanks to the effective styling and art direction choices that ensured a successful brand image and awareness. One thing that the brands have in common is their communication strategy oriented on sophistication and contemporary aesthetics, involving high-profile professionals. This is surely something that streetwear have learned from high fashion.

 

#3 The non-fashion background

It's well known that Kanye and Virgil don't have a fashion-design background. Mr. West arose to fame, as a producer for the famous recording label Roc-A-Fella records. He collaborated with artists like Alicia Kiss, Ludacris, Janet Jackson and of course Jay-Z, who would have later encouraged Kanye West solo career. Virgil, on the other hand, has an architecture degree and worked for years side by side with Kanye as an image consultant and art director. They both were capable to use their background and connections to launch and establish their brands. Obviously, Kanye, who was already a world-famous artist and one of the most influential style icons on the international scene had quite an advantage, but Abloh had the capacity to use cleverly the connection he developed, during the years he spent working with Kanye and filled the gap somehow.

 

#4 The hyped sneakers collab

If a brand wants to emerge in the streetwear scene, sneakers are a critical point that can't be underestimated.
Kanye has a long history of successful sneakers collaborations: together with Nike they gave life to the already-turned-legendary Air Yeezy, and he also worked side by side with Louis Vuitton creative team to create the infamous LV x KW Don sneakers. Now his collaboration with adidas gave life to a couple of the biggest sneaker phenomena in recent years the Yeezy Boost 350 and 750. He had always been capable to turn new silhouettes into iconic classics, beloved by collectors and fashionistas.
Virgil, a part from the small collaboration with Vans and that accompanied his latest show during Pitti, hadn't already had the chance to make his best on sneakers until now. In fact, his upcoming collaboration with Nike, The Ten, is already destined to be one of the hottest sneaker releases of the year. Instead of launching a brand new silhouette, Abloh preferred to work on Nike most iconic designs and reinvent them, adding his own taste and signature OW style.
Probably the launch of a new silhouette of his own is already planned, but this debut reflects perfectly the ingenious way that Virgil has to manage his business.

 

#5 The capacity to involve other influential personalities.

In recent times influencers and celebrities mean a lot for a brand that points to be influential. KW, being the biggest style stars of his generation, had himself to promote his brand from the day one, besides the whole team Kardashians. Also, the concept of family itself helped to promote the brand and giving it a stronger image. Virgil Abloh on his side, was still close to KW, when he first launched Pyrex Vision, his first design project that preceded Off White. So Kanye and other rap stars of his circle like Jay-Z have been the first promoters of Abloh's design projects. Then Virgil had to work hard and be smart not to remain under KW scandal and promote his own image. Now he can count on basically every celebrity in existence, from Bella Hadid to Justin Bieber, that spontaneously rocked some Off-White looks for his music video I'll show you back in 2015. So basically the two brands made a strong use of celebrities and influence in order to build up their lifestyle allure.

 

BONUS POINT The web culture

Today the web is the key to any successful streetwear enterprise.
It could sound obvious, but internet played a fundamental role in the spread of both the brands. They are almost omnipresent on streetwear blogs and communities and the first rule of the internet is that the most talked about things often become the most sought after. On the other hand, Kanye and Virgil know perfectly how to push on social media. Everyone will know about Kanye West controversial Twitter account like everyone will know about Virgil Abloh Instagram profile.
Different social media, same purpose: to fan the flames of hype.