Off-White collaborates with Victorinox on Swiss army knife inspired by ancient tools

Coinciding with the launch of a new London store, Victorinox CEO Carl Elsener Jr exclusively tells Wallpaper* about the unique collaboration with the late Virgil Abloh and Off-White

Off-White and Victorinox Swiss Army Knife open on rock
Off-White c/o Victorinox Limited Edition Swiss Army Knife
(Image credit: Courtesy of Victorinox)

The prolific collaborative output of late American designer Virgil Abloh continues with a new Swiss army knife, created in a partnership between historic Switzerland-based Victorinox and Abloh’s Milan-based label Off-White. Embarked upon over two years ago, the pocket knife – officially titled ‘Off-White c/o Victorinox Limited Edition Swiss Army Knife’ – marks one of a number of posthumous collaborations from the genre-spanning designer, who died close to a year ago, on 28 November 2021. 

Speaking from the upper floor of Victorinox’s new store on London’s Oxford Street – which opened yesterday (17 November 2022) – Victorinox CEO Carl Elsener Jr, the great-grandson of founder Karl Elsener, and Carl’s wife Veronika Elsener, chief marketing officer, say that it was Abloh who first approached the brand about the project. ‘He’s such an icon of culture; you can see how he’s always approaching things in a very conceptual way,’ says Veronika. ‘Bringing that to our products really changes the perspective. He has become this superstar, an eminence.’ (Carl adds that the couple’s daughter, then studying industrial design in Los Angeles, was particularly excited about the prospect of a collaboration with Abloh).

Off-White c/o Victorinox Limited Edition Swiss Army Knife

Closed Victorinox and Off-White Swiss Army Knife closed on rock

Off-White c/o Victorinox Limited Edition Swiss Army Knife

(Image credit: Courtesy of Off-White)

Carl notes that Abloh began the project by thinking about what he calls ‘the origins of mankind’, a consideration of the various objects that have allowed for human survival. One of these was carved rock or flint, which was used for multiple purposes by Stone Age dwellers – to cut food, carve markings, cut trees, start a fire. ‘I think the Swiss army knife is today’s stone,’ smiles Carl. ‘Abloh was thinking: what are the tools humans have used to survive? Stones were once the only tools we had. People worked on them to make them more useful, precise, functional.’

As such, the various components of the collaborative Swiss army knife – the knife, the saw, the bottle opener – recall the jagged edges of rock, jutting outwards from the main body of the knife (which is crafted from Corian, a material used for the first time by Victorinox in this collaboration). Its unexpected design, Carl says, initially was a shock to those manufacturing the knife in the brand’s Swiss factories. ’We have been making our Swiss army knives for 125 years and in that time we have tried to optimise it, develop the blade. People have been working for us for 20, 30, 40 years, so they maybe didn’t understand [this collaboration] immediately. But now I think they are incredibly proud.’

Of collaborating with Abloh, Carl and Veronika call it a transformative experience. ‘I think it taught us we could be more open,’ says Carl. ‘He really had this openness, this creativity, but then the details and the function are still really important.’ Veronika calls him ‘a modern-day Leonardo [da Vinci]’ who ‘explored universal themes’. ‘He had this courage to look at what we do from a bigger picture, to bring in history, and his own background,’ she says.

Close up of Victorinox and Off-White Swiss Army Knife

Off-White c/o Victorinox Limited Edition Swiss Army Knife

(Image credit: Courtesy of Victorinox)

Available as a 3,000-piece edition, the Off-White c/o Victorinox Limited Edition Swiss Army Knife will be available on Victorinox’s website and stores, alongside selected Off-White locations (it is also the hero piece of a wider ‘Equipment’ project that Abloh worked on with Korean brand Post Archive Faction). Carl says that the Swiss army knife’s release coinciding with the new London store opening – just metres from department store Selfridges – was a happy coincidence.

The store itself, in process since before the pandemic, aims to reach a more expansive audience by being placed in the heart of one of London’s busiest shopping streets. The upper floor of the store is designed to recall the precision of the Victorinox workshops, seeing stainless steel cabinets and birch wood surfaces provide a clean backdrop for an array of the brand’s home and Swiss army knives (a service will allow you to customise or assemble your own), while downstairs houses watch, luggage and fragrance collections. 

‘We want to become more modern, more fresh,’ says Carl of the shop’s design, part of a new way of imagining the brand’s retail spaces (Oxford Street is the second store in the evolving concept). It aligns with Victorinox’s aim to open the brand to a new generation of consumers, of which the Off-White collaboration is an intrinsic part. ‘The collaboration has made us more daring. We are so happy, and so excited –the only sad thing is that Virgil isn’t here too.’

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Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands.