Virgil Abloh, Trail-Blazing Designer, Has Died at 41


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Virgil Abloh was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear and the chief executive officer of Off-White, a Milan-based fashion house he founded in 2013. He died on November 28, 2021, after battling with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Virgil Abloh was born on September 30, 1980, and raised in Rockford, Illinois. His father managed a paint company and his mother was a seamstress, from whom he’d learn how to seam. Abloh had been studying as an architect, receiving his Masters’ Degree at Illinois Institute of Technology, and the training had never really left him. While on campus, his interest in fashion sparked when he noticed a building under construction that was designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, who had also worked on runway collections for Prada.

Abloh’s career kicked off when he interned at Fendi in the same class as rapper Kanye West in Rome Italy. Together, they would begin an artistic collaboration that would later prompt Abloh to launch Off-White.
“I am all about championing this new era of designers becoming the new rock stars,” he wrote on the blog The Brilliance in 2007.

Later on in 2009, Abloh, West and West’s artistic partner, Don C, launched a retail store called the “RSVP Gallery” in Chicago. The store became known for selling a variety of fashion apparel and for Abloh’s style in the interior of the store.

In 2011, Abloh would serve as the artistic director for the Jay-Z/West album Watch the Throne.

By 2012, Abloh launched his first company, Pyrex Vision. He created pieces by purchasing “deadstock clothing” from Ralph Lauren for $40, then screen printing the word “Pyrex” and the number 23–a nod to his childhood hero Michael Jordan–on them and selling them for $550 each.

Virgil Abloh's Pyrex Vision Brand Is Still Alive | Highsnobiety Photo Courtesy of Highsnobiety

In 2013, Abloh founded Off-White, a creative endeavor based in Milan. There, he combines streetwear, luxury, art, music, and travel to create fashion. By him, the brand was considered to be “the gray area between black and white as the color Off-White.” A year later, Abloh launched womenswear for Off-White and debuted his men’s and women’s collections during Paris Fashion Week.

His womenswear operation gained fame when Beyoncé wore a palm-print sweatshirt with the word Nebraska written on it. This piece was an homage to Raf Simons’s Fall 2002 Virginia Creepers collection which was in Nicki Minaj’s video for “Feeling Myself.”

By 2016, Abloh began to reach consumers worldwide; he opened his first concept store in the “Aoyama area” of Tokyo and debuted his Grey Area furniture collection in Milan.

In 2017 comes the biggest news for Abloh, which is The Ten, a sneaker partnership with Nike. Abloh recreates ten of Nike’s iconic sneakers with a “work-in-progress style” adorned with a “safety tag” by the laces. 2017 was one of the biggest years for Abloh’s career; a collaborative exhibition with Takashi Murakami at Gagosian; the release of his first song; the opening of his New York store; the British Fashion Award for Urban Luxe Brand; and collaborations with some of the biggest names in fashion.

In 2018, Abloh took over as the artistic director of Luis Vuitton’s menswear collections, becoming the first Black person to take on the role of artistic director at a French luxury fashion house. “It is an honor for me to accept this position,” he says. “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.” He’d later be named as one of Time’s “100 most influential people in the world” in 2018.

He was crowned as an “inspirational figure” by the BBC, reaching a “level of global fame unusual for a designer” according to The Wall Street Journal.