“Everything I do is for my 17-year-old version,” said Vigil Abloh, who deeply believed in the power of art to inspire future generations. The revolutionary designer, the king of luxury street fashion, the LVMH “star” designer and the most prominent black figure in luxury fashion, died last Sunday at the age of 41, after suffering from a “rare and serious” cancer within two years.
The news of his death was provided by the LVMH Group, which owns Louis Vuitton, in an Instagram post. The owner of the Off-White fashion brand also suffered from cardiovascular sarcoma, which was diagnosed in 2019: “We are saddened to announce the passing of our dear Virgil Abloh, father, husband, son, brother and loyal friend,” reads IF. In the message also posted on the account of the designer who has two children, Gray and Louie Abloh, with Shannon Abloh, with whom he has been in a relationship since 2009.
“He has chosen to support his fight in private since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing many challenging treatments, all while heading several important institutions covering fashion, art and culture,” the same text reads. “As he went through all this, his work ethic, endless curiosity, and optimism were unwavering. Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design.”
LVMH Group President Bernard Arnault was also one of the first to publicly lament: “We are shocked by this news. Virgil was not only a genius and visionary, but also a man of beautiful spirit and great wisdom. She joins the LVMH family in this moment of grief. Serious,” he wrote on his Instagram account.
From architecture to fashion The first great black innovator, committed to “affirming African American cultures,” he was the son of immigrants from Ghana, grew up in Chicago, USA, and before he hit fashion, he graduated in civil engineering and architecture.
After graduation, he was an apprentice at Fendi, an Italian fashion house founded in 1925, on the same team as rapper Kanye West, a friend who propelled him to stardom. In the company’s office in Rome, they both began a collaborative relationship. A year later, Kanye appointed Virgil as creative director for his ad agency DONDA, and two years later, he was asked to be artistic director of Watch the Throne, the duo’s collaborative album with Jay-Z.
In 2012, Abloh managed to create his first company, Pyrex Vision, a small boutique selling high-end fashion. His secret was: to buy several old and unsold Ralph Lauren clothes for forty dollars, have designs printed on them and sell them for more than $550. However, the deal was short-lived – more of a trading company, Abloh intended this to be an artistic experiment.
in his own name A year later, Virgil Abloh had already established his first fashion house, with street fashion brand Off-White. Based in the fashion capital of Milan, Abloh has described it to investors and fashion critics as “the gray area between black and white as the color white.”
Collaborating with everyone from Nike to Ikea, Perrier and Mercedes-Benz, the designer has taken the fashionistas into arenas they’ve never been before, cross-pollination with others, even though fashion experts don’t appreciate it.
In 2017, he was invited to design a new collection with Nike called “The Ten”, where he recreated a variety of the company’s ten best-selling sneakers, such as Air Presto, Air Vapormax and Blazer, with these unique footwear characteristics of style. At the same time, she also launched, in partnership with the Swedish furniture company IKEA, a line of furniture and decorative objects for apartments and houses. The collection, titled “Markerad”, in Portuguese “clear” or “crisp”, was launched in 2019. That year, the artist told the Observer that when he was walking along fashion week, people told him that what he was doing “wasn’t fashion.” .
cleverness But it didn’t take long before he proved otherwise: In 2018, Virgil made history by being appointed head of menswear design for the brand, the first black designer to play that role within the French house and conglomerate LVMH.
The brand raised it in part to help the company maintain access to a younger, more diverse group of consumers. The designer has the distinction of having over 6 million followers on Instagram, with his posts reflecting his daily inspiration, as well as his latest creations, works and travels.
After accepting the position, he admitted: “It is an honor for me to accept this position. I believe that the heritage and creative integrity of the house are the main inspirations and we will endeavor to point to them as we draw parallels with the modern era.” Because of that, his influence has gone beyond fashion. Not only did he design the cover art for Kanye West’s album, but he collaborated with artists such as rappers Drake, Bob Smoke, Westside Gun, Octavian and Lil’ Uzi Vert. West often referred to his colleague and friend as a “real architect”. “I have all these ideas and Virgil is able to design them because he is a real architect,” he declared.
Abloh showed his first collection for Louis Vuitton in 2018 at Men’s Fashion Week at the Palais Royal in Paris. Singer Rihanna was the first person to wear one of her creations before the show. At his invitation, rappers such as Playboi Carti, Steve Lacy, A$AP Nast, Dev Hynes and Kid Cudi put on a show for Louis Vuitton. At the end, when Virgil and Kanye West cried while embracing.
In sports, Abloh’s designs have been more visible in the NBA, thanks to Louis Vuitton’s campaign with the league and the Off White v Nike collaboration used by stars such as Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green and Jordan Clarkson. Abloh also worked with Nike to design shoes for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.
In 2011, his cover design work for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne album were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Visual Appearance. The artist was awarded the Urban Luxe by the British Fashion Council in 2017, and the following year, he was listed in Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World – one of two designers nominated that year.
success reasons “His expansive approach to crafting inspiring comparisons with artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. For him, clothing were symbols of identity,” Vanessa Friedman, fashion director and chief fashion critic of The New York Times, wrote. “Abloh changed not only what consumers wanted to wear, bridging the gap between street fashion and the world of luxury, but also what brands wanted in the designer.”
In a statement, Ralph Toledano, president of the French Federation of Haute Couture and Fashion, praised Abloh for his “willingness to break barriers.” In turn, Gucci stated that Abloh was “an inspiration to all of us”. British Vogue editor Edward Enninful went further, calling him a “giant among men”: “Virgil Abloh has changed the fashion industry. Famously prolific, he has always worked for a cause bigger than his illustrious career: opening the door to art and fashion for posterity, so that those – unlike him – will grow up in a creative world with people they mirror.”
A tribute to the designer will be held in Miami, on Tuesday, at a fashion show planned by Louis Vuitton.
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