Virgil Abloh pushed the boundaries of fashion, privately battling with cardiac angiosarcoma for the last two years.
Written by: Jillian VanDyke
On November 28, 2021, Virgil Abloh passed away in Chicago at age 41, after a career that changed the ideals of fashion. His passing was unexpected by the masses of people who looked up to him, leaving behind an inspiring creative legacy.
As the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, as well as the founder of his own brand, Off-White, Abloh was a prolific collaborator with outside brands from Nike to Evian. A popular fashion theorist, his expansive and occasionally controversial approach to design inspired comparisons with everyone from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons.
Abloh successfully sought to change the perspective of what clothing as art was, and stayed firm in the belief that clothes were not just to be worn or viewed, but rather expressed identity.
Abloh successfully sought to change the perspective of what clothing as art was, and stayed firm in the belief that clothes were not just to be worn or viewed, but rather expressed identity. “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” he said, as quoted by his wife in an Instagram post. He believed deeply, she wrote, “in the power of art to inspire future generations.”
“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said in a statement. He never stopped working towards his goals to improve the world he lived in. His efforts made it clear that he was more interested in carving his own path and fulfilling his own ideals than following the lead of anyone before him, because he cared about the future and advancement of artists in the field of fashion.
. . . he cared about the future and advancement of artists in the field of fashion.
Born on September 30, 1980, Virgil Abloh was surrounded by skate culture and hip-hop, both influential to what he had done growing older. Notably, he did not seek out a career in fashion, instead earning his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (2002) and his master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology (2006). While he was studying at IIT, a fashion building was constructed on campus, which led him to rethink the direction of his work. He learned some clothing basics from his mother, a seamstress.
Abloh quickly became successful and well-known — he met Kanye West only a few years into his fashion career. Three years after graduating with his master’s, they both flew to Paris, where West signed a sneaker collaboration with Louis Vuitton. The pair and their creative team soon discussed how what they made differed from others.
“Streetwear wasn’t on anyone’s radar,” Abloh later told GQ, “but the sort of chatter at dinners after shows was like ‘Fashion needs something new. It’s stagnant. What’s the new thing going to be?’ That was the timeline on which I was crafting my ideas.” Abloh began a six-month internship at Fendi, making $500 a month, and learning the business from the inside out. In 2010 he became creative director of Donda, West’s creative incubator, helping turn West’s ideas into actuality.
. . . Abloh refused to be defined by any single project, or to let those works be confined.
Remember Pyrex Vision? Back in 2012, Virgil Abloh made his first foray into high fashion with a small collection of Champion tees, hoodies, basketball shorts, socks and flannel shirts, plastered in collegiate lettering and Renaissance artwork. Considering he was using low-cost blanks, Abloh charged astronomical prices, and Pyrex Vision's flannel shirting became infamous when it later emerged (via Highsnobiety's own Jian DeLeon, back in his Complex days) that Abloh was just slapping his logo onto old Ralph Lauren shirts and charging $550 for the pleasure. Abloh would later shut the brand down and link with New Guards Group, a crew of Italian clothing moguls, to start Off-White. Abloh’s latest venture picks up where Pyrex left off, sold at most luxury retailers around the world.
Progressing in his style and work, Abloh refused to be defined by any single project, or to let those works be confined. He did not want to be known solely as the creator of the streetwear brand Off-White, either.
Years later, in 2018, Time named Virgil Abloh one of the most influential people of the year. “Virgil is incredibly good at creating bridges between the classic and the zeitgeist of the moment,” Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton, told The New York Times when Abloh became the art director of the brand. By 2019, Abloh became overworked, but this did not stop his work ethic. Even as Abloh was hospitalized with cardiac angiosarcoma, the illness that would kill him, he had plans to travel to Miami for a Louis Vuitton menswear show.
According to The New York Times, “Just last July, he had been promoted to a new position within LVMH that would allow him to work across the group’s 75 brands, making him the most powerful Black executive in the most powerful luxury group in the world.” He is survived by his wife Shannon, his children Lowe and Grey, his sister Edwina and his parents — and a legacy he defined during his first Louis Vuitton show, held in the gardens of the Palais Royale in front of an audience that included Kanye West, Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, as well as 1,500 students. “There are people around this room who look like me,” Abloh told The New York Times. “You never saw that before in fashion. The people have changed, and so fashion has to.”