LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton announced on Tuesday that it is taking a majority stake in Off-White, the upscale streetwear brand that DJ-slash-designer Virgil Abloh launched in 2013. In a statement, Paris-based LVMH revealed that in addition to taking a 60 percent stake in Off-White, it has entered into a new “arrangement” with Abloh to “jointly pursue new projects across luxury categories.” The new partnership will “leverage the Group’s expertise to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond the realm of fashion,” with initial discussions already underway, according to the French luxury goods conglomerate.
In a statement on Tuesday, LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault said, “We are thrilled to expand our successful partnership with Virgil. We have already had the privilege of witnessing his exceptional creativity and vision through his work with us at Louis Vuitton.” He further stated that the group “look[s] forward to supporting Virgil and the team both in driving the growth of Off-White™️ and in working together with Virgil to bring his unique sensibility to a broader range of luxury categories.”
Meanwhile, Michael Burke, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Louis Vuitton, where Abloh maintains the role of artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear, stated that “by breaking down borders and proclaiming a profoundly inclusive philosophy, Virgil has extended the reach of Louis Vuitton’s luxury world.” And finally, Abloh revealed that “for nearly a decade, we have been building Off-White™️ to be a brand designed to empower our generation and challenge the status quo. LVMH brings to the table the additional firepower and scale to accelerate our momentum and evolve Off-White into a truly multi-line luxury brand.”
LVMH noted that the transaction, which is still subject to regulatory approval, is expected to be completed within the next 60 days, and that Italian fashion group New Guards Group will remain an operating partner for Off-White™ through its licensing agreement with Off-White LLC.
While Off-White may be the first streetwear brand to live under the LVMH ownership umbrella, the brand is not all that different from some of the group’s biggest names – including LVMH’s most valuable property, the 167-year-old Louis Vuitton – primarily because of how it operates: it generates a significant amount of revenue by monetizing its arsenal of trademarks (i.e., logos, word marks, etc.), which are prominently placed on its wares and easily recognizable to its core group of consumers, who are willing to pay a premium for high-margin items as a function of the appearance of those marks. (Like Louis Vuitton, Off-White also engages in consistent and aggressive enforcement of its rights in those marks, both by way of trademark opposition proceedings (Off-White is currently trying to prevent the registration of Dark Whyte, Off-Bounds, and Off-Logic, among other marks, for use on apparel) and infringement-centric litigation).
Counsel for Abloh’s brand made mention of this in a recent round of the back-and-forth that the brand has had with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) in furtherance of its quest to secure registrations for an array of its interesting marks, from the red zip tie that is commonly attached to the brand’s footwear and handbag offerings, and the “For Walking” word mark – quotation marks, included – which has appeared on some of the brand’s shoes, including a pair of boots that it sent down the runway in Paris several years ago.
Speaking to the potentially seamless transition of the Off-White brand into the LVMH universe, albeit inadvertently, counsel for Off-White recently responded to pushback from the USPTO, arguing that the trademark body should register its red zip tie trademark by likening its use of the red zip tie to the logo-centric products of luxury goods brands, sales of which are driven, in large part, by the presence of the logos. The zip tie “is no different” than “any other trademark that appears affixed to fashion products,” which often attract consumers to the product while also identifying the source of it, the brand’s counsel asserted.
This is especially true for high-end fashion products, the brand’s counsel claims, “for which the communication to others that the product is produced by a certain source is much of the attraction of purchasing, owning, and wearing the product in the first place.”
The news of the deal comes just over a week after LVMH revealed that it would take a minority stake in former Celine creative director Phoebe Philo’s soon-to-launch eponymous label and a couple of days after Etro announced that it had entered into a binding agreement to partner with L Catterton, the largest global consumer-focused private equity firm in which LVMH operates with Groupe Arnault, the family holding company of Bernard Arnault, and capital market company Catterton.