It was a great shock to fashion enthusiasts across the globe and the world at large when the news of an abrupt end of the artistic director and founder of Off-Whit label; Virgil Abloh surfaced on the internet and social media.
Virgil Abloh died on Sunday, November 28, 2021, after a private battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, at the age of 41.
Ablor once worked as a DJ, visual artist, singer, and was famously known as a fashion designer before his death.
Born in 1980 near Chicago, the American-born son of Ghanaian immigrants who became fashion’s highest-profile black designer, was taught the basics of fashion at a young age by his mother, Eunice Abloh who was a seamstress.
Abloh attended the Boylan Catholic High School—official colors green and white—and graduated in 1998. After graduating from the Civil Engineering department of University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002, he completed a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006.
Rumor has it that on the day of his graduation at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Abloh skipped his final critique to take a meeting with Kanye West’s then-manager John Monopoly, and the result of the meeting was a collaboration between him and Kanye West afterwards, and they both became interns at Fendi in 2009.
Abloh officially assumed the role of creative director at Donda; Kanye West’s creative agency in 2010.Abloh launched his first brand, Pyrex Vision, in New York in 2012. He purchased deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts for $40 each, and screen printed them with the word Pyrex and the number 23, an homage to his childhood hero, Michael Jordan and sold each for $550.
In 2013, Abloh founded Off-White label, a multi-platform creative endeavor based in Milan. At Off-White, he combines ideas of streetwear, luxury, art, music, and travel, defining the brand simply as, “the gray area between black and white as the color Off-White.” He later launched womenswear for Off-White in 2014, and began showing his men’s and women’s collections during Paris Fashion Week.
Abloh’s womenswear operation gained steam in 2015 when Beyoncé wore a palm-print sweatshirt with the word Nebraska on it, an homage to Raf Simons’s Fall 2002 Virginia Creepers collection, in Nicki Minaj’s video for “Feeling Myself.” That same year, Off-White was named a finalist for the LVMH Prize. He lost the grand prize and special prize to Marques’Almeida and Jacquemus, respectively.
Abloh debuted his Grey Area furniture collection in Milan, his first furniture venture under the Off-White brand in 2015. It features iron grid chairs, benches, and tables with leather cushions and Carrara marble tops.
2017 was indeed a huge year for Virgil Abloh. He had a collaborative exhibition with Takashi Murakami opening at Gagosian, before releasing his first song. He opened his New York store and won the British Fashion Award for Urban Luxe Brand. He also collaborated with Warby Parker, Jacob the Jeweler, and Jimmy Choo.
The biggest news for Abloh in 2017 was The Ten, his sneaker partnership with Nike. Abloh recreated 10 of Nike’s iconic silhouettes in a work-in-progress style, each adorned with a safety tag around the laces. The limited release left the sneaker market hungry for more, and Abloh hosted panels and workshops with Nike and additional releases throughout the year.
Abloh became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections in 2018, after his friend and mentor Kim Jones vacated the role. He then said in a statement after assuming the position “It is an honor for me to accept this position. I find the heritage and creative integrity of the house are key inspirations and will look to reference them both while drawing parallels to modern times.”
Speaking in a statement released after Abloh’s death, LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault said in a statement “His arrival at LVMH in 2018 marked the marriage between streetwear and high-end fashion influenced by graffiti art, hip hop and skateboard culture.” The designer addressed environmental and social issues in his work with Louis Vuitton, with anti-racist and anti-homophobia messages at his January show in Paris. In 2019, Virgil Alboh’s artworks became the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and his Ikea collaboration was released through the brand’s international stores.
He said earlier this year that he planned to use his partnership with LVMH “to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion in the industries we serve”. His family, his friends and the fashion space will surely miss the visionary, trusted partner and collaborator called Virgil Abloh.
Photo Credit: Zak Kaczmarek/Getty