Virgil Abloh, the founder of iconic streetwear label Off-White and creative director of Louis Vuitton died on Sunday at 41, after a private two-year battle with a rare form of cancer.
"For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” read a post from his Instagram account. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture."
The news is as shocking as it is sad. And as friends, acquaintances and fans alike mourn the loss of the artistic visionaire, it’s time for us to celebrate the life of Abloh.
Abloh was a fashion designer, curator, art director and DJ, and he threw himself into each of these roles with everything he had. His connection to hip-hop surpassed his friendship with Kanye West, but he also played a pivotal role in creating connection between music and fashion.
As someone who obsessively created a space for streetwear on the world stage, Abloh only ever prioritised one thing above this: the future. Armed with an unwavering resolve to create something permanent Abloh worshipped youth culture, signalling to the future with whatever he created, whether that was with art, fashion or music.
Born in 1980 in Rockford, Illinois to Ghanian immigrant parents, Abloh learned how to sew from his mother. Though, his path to fashion was never linear.
While studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006, where he completed his Master of Architecture, Abloh discovered a building on campus designed by Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas’s work with Prada introduced him to a unique way of thinking about the relationship between architecture, art and fashion. "His relationship with Miuccia Prada piqued my interest and opened my gateway into fashion," Abloh told BOF.
This combined with meeting West in 2002 is what propelled Abloh into the limelight, and ostensibly set him on his journey into the fashion industry,
Since 2002, Abloh has been a creative consultant to West. And on Sunday night, West dedicated his long-running Sunday Service to Abloh with a heart-wrenching rendition of Adele’s Easy On Me, which was streamed briefly at dondalive.com. At the conclusion of the stream, the screen simply read: “In loving memory of Virgil Abloh, the creative director of Donda.”
Abloh and West’s symbiotic relationship was something to behold. The two interned together in the Rome headquarters of Fendi in 2009. Abloh then went onto art direct Watch The Throne, Jay-Z and West’s critically-acclaimed collaborative album, which also earned Abloh a Grammy nomination.
In 2012, Abloh debuted Pyrex Vision in New York, with custom-screen printed shirts that garnered a cult following thanks to the likes of West and A$AP Rocky repping the brand. Not long after, Pyrex Vision was being stocked in high-end retailers alongside luxury design houses like Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Balmain. And it would be Abloh that would carve out a place for streetwear’s place in high fashion.
“We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there,” Abloh told W magazine. “We saw this as our chance to participate and make current culture. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were bringing more excitement than the industry was.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Following the debut of Pyrex, Abloh founded Off-White and from his very first collection, unleashed his artistic vision with references to architecture — namely Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's floating glass home — Baroque art and German Design Studio, The Bauhaus. A culmination of architectural knowledge, a passion for art and a distinctly Black American point of view saw Abloh change the way the world consumed and experienced fashion.
This came to a head on March 25, 2018, when Abloh was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear ready wear line. As the first Black man to be an artistic director for Louis Vuitton and the third to lead a French luxury fashion house, Abloh in every sense of the word, was a trailblazer, opening the doors to many others who plan to follow in his footsteps.
At his first show that same year, Kid Cudi, Dev Hynes, Playboi Carti and Steve Lacy all walked the runway, as Rihanna, A$AP Rocky, Kim Kardashian and West sat front row. At the end of the show, West and Abloh embraced, crying and hugging one another in a moment that was as intimate as it was universally understood — these two kids from Chicago finally made it.
While many will remember Virgil for his signature designs, the way he used quotation marks to bring a camp flair to streetwear, and his countless accolades, what he truly leaves behind is a legacy of someone that cared about the future.
“He held the flashlight. He unlocked new worlds. He was impeccable with his word and generous with his time,” Kerby Jean-Raymond, the founder of Pyer Moss wrote on Instagram. “Nothing will ever be the same. Thank you forever V.”