Off-White founder Virgil Abloh closed out 2020 with a popup installation in Miami’s Design District. The space, minimally decorated and brightly lit, was equal parts warehouse and concert venue, with DJ music artist Pedro Cavaliere performing a live set throughout the duration of the five-day popup. The event was livestreamed on online marketplace Basic.Space, where consumers could shop Abloh’s ultra-exclusive collection of just three styles of furniture conceived in collaboration with Swiss design company Vitra. Fewer than 1,300 pieces existed in the collection, and each one was numbered. In real-time, consumers could watch the collection sell out—and it did.
This avant-garde-meets-Gen-Z concept is exactly the kind of strategy that transformed Off-White’s parent company New Guards Group (NGG) from a small startup to a massive conglomerate for luxury streetwear’s biggest labels in about five years’ time. In addition to Off-White, it now owns Palm Angels, Marcelo Burlon County of Milan, Heron Preston, Opening Ceremony, Ambush, Unravel Project, Alanui and Kirin by Peggy Gou.
NGG was launched in 2015 by Davide de Giglio, Claudio Antonioli and Marcelo Burlon as a way to build a platform that could support the best creative talent in the world and build iconic brands. Though at the time its biggest competitors were conglomerates like Diesel-owner Only the Brave (OTB), it now seems to exist in a league of its own.
According to Evy Lyons, vice president of marketing at influencer marketing technology platform Traackr, one of the major reasons for this is the company’s authenticity, which she says allows it to take risks unlike any of its competitors.
“The principal designers have profiles of their own that tell a story of innovation, diversity and thoughtfulness, which gives their labels a clear path forward,” she told Rivet. “These labels have also done a good job of leading with those values from the start, which show a level of commitment which puts them at an advantage compared to well-defined brands that don’t have this history.”
Case in point: Abloh’s career journey is well-known among his followers. Though initially an architecture student, he broke into fashion as an intern at Fendi and eventually worked for multi-hyphen mogul Kanye West. Despite his surge to the top, he always remained humble and now often champions young designers as a way to pay it forward.
Similarly, Heron Preston is known for collections that blend art with nods to the workwear worn by construction workers and fire fighters. In addition to promoting authenticity, he also championed sustainability, with organic cotton used throughout his collections. Two collaborations with Levi’s have familiarized denim heads with Preston’s designs as well.
This same philosophy was exercised when NGG’s Palm Angels partnered with NBA 2K21, a basketball simulation video game, on a luxury apparel line in 2020. But what set this collaboration apart from the many others in the luxury streetwear industry, again, was authenticity.
“Palm Angels designer Francesco Ragazzi is a huge NBA fan,” said Lyons. “NGG’s willingness to let the personality and interests of their designers shine through in their styles, partnerships and marketing helps bring a personable, approachable, authentic air to their labels that aren’t typically associated with the luxury streetwear category.”
The designers’ personal connections have also helped propel NGG forward, calling attention to Abloh’s high-profile friendships and business relationships that preceded his experience with the platform, she added. Years before they launched their own fashion brands, Abloh and Preston ran in the same social circle.
“The fashion world is all about who you know, and NGG is a great example of what good networking can do for a brand,” Lyons said. “While it can’t account for the entirety of NGG’s success, Abloh having connections and associations with well-known luxury brands has certainly helped elevate his own company.”
More than flashy connections, NGG’s strategic business deals also helped propel it to leadership status. A major turning point for the company came in 2019 with Farfetch’s acquisition.
The online luxury fashion retail platform acquired NGG in a cash and stock deal valued at $675 million. Through the acquisition, Farfetch aimed to develop and introduce new brands to its platform to boost consumer engagement with the Farfetch brand. In turn, Farfetch agreed to help New Guards’ portfolio brands maximize their potential by opening e-concessions on the Farfetch marketplace platform and powering each brand’s e-commerce site.
Though many initially questioned the acquisition, it ultimately proved to be a win. Farfetch’s gross merchandise value growth—the total value of merchandise sold on the Farfetch site, and a common metric to measure growth—was above Wall Street’s expectations of 33 percent, according to the company’s Q4 2019 earnings report.
According to Edited retail analyst Krista Corrigan, it’s not just one moment or characteristic that established NGG’s position at the top, but rather a series of winning strategies adopted from various sectors of the fashion industry.
“Production quality remains high, similar to a luxury brand. However, communication tactics with consumers are direct, viewed with a digital-first lens like a streetwear label,” she said. “Production is fast and distribution is efficient—methods learned from the fast-fashion realm.”
Despite borrowing strategies from the industry, NGG remains unattached to the elements of fashion that don’t serve it. The group was one of the first to ditch the traditional fashion calendar, opting for limited-edition drops over excessive seasonal collections—a strategy that’s especially celebrated by younger generations.
And the company closely resonates with the younger generations because the leaders themselves are products of the same society. The principal designers of each label are all under the age of 45 and come from diverse backgrounds, much like their consumer base.
“The latest generation consuming streetwear wants luxury quality, exclusive offerings and a quick turnaround,” Corrigan said. “It’s a formula that NGG has perfected.”