Virgil Abloh, widely known as a pioneer in fashion, passed away on November 28, 2021, at the age of 41. Abloh had been battling an aggressive and rare form of heart cancer named cardiac angiosarcoma privately for the past two years.
According to Dr. Ricardo Gonzalaz, the signs of the disease are “fairly non-specific” and “by the time you find it [the cancer], it has usually spread.”
Virgil Abloh was born in the fall of 1980 in Rockford, Illinois to two Ghanaian immigrants Nee Abloh and Eunice Abloh. Eunice, his mother, worked as a seamstress and Nee, his father, was the manager of a paint company.
Virgil earned a Civil Engineering degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison and went on to earn a master’s degree in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Though he was most widely known for his creativity in the fashion world, his talents and interests included but were not limited to music, art, architecture, and engineering. He spoke a myriad of creative languages which is seen and felt through the interdisciplinary nature of his work. He was a disrupter in the best way as his work was born of curiosity, creativity, and the fusion of his extensive interests.
Virgil expressed some thoughts on DJ-ing in an IG post a couple months ago in September saying, “…sometimes these CDJs feel like paint brushes in my hands. A lot of times people ask me what I plan when I DJ, [the] answer is everything I wanna hear loud, lol. Genres don’t apply in my day job or set lists either.”
It is important to note that though Virgil had no formal training in fashion it did not keep him from reaching incredible heights in the fashion world. From his mother, Eunice, teaching him to sew to founding the Pyrex Vision, which later evolved into the Off-White brand, to making history by becoming the first black Creative Director of Menswear for Louis Vuitton, Virgil made his indelible mark on the world. His love for music and art was actualized as he spent time in collaboration with Kanye West. He was Kanye’s right-hand man and served as the creative director for Donda, West’s design agency. Much like artists sample in hip-hop, Virgil sampled in fashion.
“As someone who doesn’t see the line between music and fashion, I’m all about cross pollinizing. I’ve loved how those worlds have gotten closer and each has their own identity,” Virgil said.
West lovingly and perfectly summed up how vital Virgil was to his creative process. “I’m thinking of all these ideas and Virgil is able to take all of those ideas and then architect them because he is an architect.”
Virgil in his own words valued every part of the creative process behind the work, “I look at things in a very pragmatic way as like the physical but also like the things that you don’t see.”
Virgil designed several high-profile musician’s album covers and collaborated with several brands that include Nike, Jimmy Choo, and Ikea among others. His celebrity friendships and collaborations were as endless as his vision and creativity. As proven by the outpouring of grief and reflections from those who had the privilege of knowing him.
Tyler Okonma, better known as Tyler the Creator, said of Virgil, “That hand of his opened doors, led people in and tossed the keys outside for the next person to have.”
Tyler went on to say, “Virgil was ALWAYS a cheerleader. For everyone.”
Virgil’s unique vision bolstered the immersion of streetwear into the world of high fashion. “It’s important to note that originally I was a consumer,” Virgil explained in a 2017 interview with HYPEBEAST magazine. “I was the person that was just buying things that were interesting. I came from an era within streetwear in New York, Los Angeles, and Japan that there was sort of like great vibrance because it was new and sort of an independent market and obviously times are different. When those brands weren’t able to continue…I saw a void… [which led to him] picking up the conversation where they left off.”
Where others saw resistance, Virgil saw the opportunity, “Brands are having a new dialogue with the customer. The customer…the public in general have a lot more knowledge, they are a lot more discerning. Being a designer now means something different than being a designer in a previous generation and I think what makes room for large opportunity is that there is new space for new dialogue.”
Virgil continued, “To me there is a new space to be defined. I don’t think we’ve yet to see how substantial and how innovative and how creative this new merger is meant to be, and my work is focused on making tangible examples whether that be a fashion show, or a garment, or a collaboration just to find space and I’ve always been about discovering by doing. I take that as my personal goal to understand what this new ethos in design and bring new collections, garments, new ways that fashion can relate to the public.”
When asked about the influence of streetwear and street culture in his work Virgil explained, “It’s me. Same 17-year-old version of myself, skating, listening to rap music, Nirvana and Guns and Roses. You know, I’m just older and I’ve made a profession out of it. It’s my life, it’s my creative expression.”
Virgil was unapologetically himself. He pushed the culture forward in his own way and his designs became the most sought after. In 2018 Off-White was deemed the hottest brand by The List Index, overtaking Gucci. This was the same year he became one of the most powerful black executives when he became the Creative Director of Menswear for Louis Vuitton. He often recognized those that came before him and he never forgot his Ghanaian roots implementing kente cloth into his 2021 Fall/Winter Louis Vuitton Men’s collection.
Virgil’s hard work and impact will live on through those who he inspired which is many. He was a shining example of taking up space because he knew there was and is a place for black people in the high fashion and luxury world. He is heralded as a “hero” as he has inspired so many to pursue fashion now that they know there is in fact a place for them.
Not only did he inspire, but he also created hope and paid it forward raising funds specifically to aid black fashion hopefuls on both the design and the business ends of the fashion world.
The prolific Virgil imparted wisdom to the Fashion Scholarship fund saying, “If there is anything you take away from me and my career to your own story, don’t let anyone put you in any box. It allows a conversation to happen without you even speaking. I don’t see any box. That’s my freedom.”