Virgil Abloh Turned Fashion Upside Down in Beautiful Chaos
The prolific designer has passed away after a private battle with cancer.
CREDIT: Getty Images/Dominique Charriau
Virgil Abloh, the changemaker who served as Artistic Director of Menswear at Louis Vuitton and founder of streetwear label Off-White, passed away Sunday in Chicago at the age of 41 after a private battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
“Virgil was not only a designer, a visionary, but he was also a beautiful man with great soul and wisdom,” said Bernard Arnault, LVMH chairman and chief executive officer.
A visionary is what Abloh was, but it almost feels unnecessarily modest when looking back at the sheer impact he had on fashion, culture and design throughout his career.
CREDIT: Getty Images/Johnny Nunez
Born in Rockford, Illinois, Abloh was the son of Ghanian immigrants Nee and Eunice Abloh. Growing up, he immersed himself in hip-hop and skate culture, foreshadowing the fruitful career he would embark upon. Abloh had no formal training in fashion — he studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. However, he would learn the basics of tailoring from his mother, who was a seamstress.
While in school for architecture, Abloh would find a position at Custom Kings, a screen-printing store in Chicago that he submitted work to. This is where he would meet Don Crawley, founder of streetwear label Just Don, who would eventually introduce him to Kanye West. Soon after their introduction, Abloh was working as a creative assistant to West and found himself crashing shows at Paris Fashion Week in 2009 after the rapper signed a deal with Louis Vuitton for a collaboration on a collection of sneakers (a photo of Abloh pictured with West alongside the rest of the rapper’s troupe from the trip would eventually go viral).
CREDIT: Tommy Ton
“When Kanye and I were first going to fashion shows, there was no one outside the shows,” Abloh told GQ in 2019. “Streetwear wasn’t on anyone’s minds.”
Soon thereafter, Abloh would become creative director of West’s Donda project and the two began interning at Fendi for $500 a month.
Abloh’s first project on his own after meeting West was Pyrex Vision, an art project consisting of screen-printed mesh basketball shorts and flannel button-ups from the now-defunct Rugby line by Ralph Lauren. The short-lived collection of astronomically marked-up garments would eventually be shut down and Abloh would embark upon his next project, Off-White, which would help launch the designer into the mainstream.
Off-White was where Abloh’s profound impact on fashion for this generation would begin. Fashion critics and those in the know quickly labeled the brand as a streetwear brand. However, his first collection at Paris Fashion Week in 2014 let the world know that wasn't the case. With the inception of Off-White, Abloh began to cultivate a community of young people interested in fashion and streetwear. It was through this community that Abloh was able to begin to construct the bridge between the streetwear and high-fashion communities, creating an osmosis effect that has led to the landscape of high-profile collaborations we’ve seen during the last few years.
Abloh would eventually bring the community he cultivated with him to the top upon accepting the position of creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, succeeding Kim Jones. His first collection for the fashion house was a phenomenon and drew inspiration from The Wiz, exemplifying the designer’s love for fairytales. Abloh would go on to reimagine Louis Vuitton’s menswear from the ground up, reinventing iconic bags and dreaming up innovative silhouettes.
Aside from his time at Louis Vuitton, Abloh embarked on endless collaborations with various brands, including IKEA, Mercedes-Benz and Evian. Abloh also was known for his DJ sets and design and architecture work.
In the wake of his death, the world witnessed an outpouring of love, stories and farewells from his fans, acquaintances and closest confidants. One thing was apparent: Everyone who came in contact with Abloh had nothing but words of admiration for the designer’s kindness and wisdom. His time in fashion was one that we witness only once or twice in a generation — similar to a McQueen, Lagerfeld or Halston. He was a titan, a central pillar of the industry, and his influence will permeate through fashion for years to come.
Jacob McLean is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. When he's not hunched over his computer, drinking alarming amounts of coffee or searching for new music, you'll probably find him daydreaming about his future life in NYC like every other basic bitch. Find him on Insta at jacobmclean_