Remembering Visionary Designer Virgil Abloh

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Courtesy of LVMH

The boundary-breaking designer has tragically passed away from cancer, aged 41, leaving behind a monumental legacy

In news that has shocked and saddened the fashion industry and beyond, it was announced yesterday evening that Virgil Abloh has passed away, aged just 41. The trailblazing Off-White founder and Louis Vuitton artistic director had been privately battling with a rare and aggressive heart cancer, it was revealed. 

“Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered. Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations,” read a post announcing the tragic news on Abloh’s Instagram.

Abloh was born in Chicago in 1980, growing up in the nearby town of Rockford. One of his earliest passions was music, and the young creative spent his teenage years DJing at local house parties – a lifelong passion which later saw him perform around the world, from Ibiza to Berlin.

Remarkably, Abloh didn’t study fashion, instead enrolling in a civil engineering degree at the University of Wisconsin. These expansive early interests – straddling the worlds of design, music, art and fashion – were indicators of the polymath’s genre-defying approach to design, and later boundary-breaking career trajectory.

At the forefront of the 2010s streetwear movement, Abloh first made waves on the fashion scene with his brand Pyrex Vision, later launching Been Trill collective alongside Heron Preston and Matthew Williams – whose cult graphic T-shirts were seen on the backs of celebrities and fashion fans alike – before launching Off-White in 2013. Melding streetwear influences with high fashion in ways which had never been seen before, Abloh’s future-facing brand upended ideas of luxury – reshaping the industry with many other labels following in his wake.

In 2018, he made history as the first African-American man to helm a major fashion house, taking up the mantle from Kim Jones as Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of menswear. Always championing young people, he took to Instagram after his debut show in Paris with a post which read, “You can do it too.” At Louis Vuitton, Abloh brought his inclusive and expansive vision to the historic house, creating collections which celebrated art, music, and Black identity. His last few collections – including his Autumn/Winter 2021 offering, which was captured by Paolo Roversi and IB Kamara for AnOther Magazine – were some of his most expressive, dismantling existing archetypes and spotlighting significant Black cultural figures. 

In 2020, Abloh announced a $1 million scholarship for Black students, donating a sum of his own money to the cause, and campaigning for names like Louis Vuitton, Evian and Farfetch to do the same. “The goal is to make sure I’m not one of the few, but one of the many in my industry,” he said at the time. 

“What I’m excited about is the non-judgmental space,” Abloh said in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of AnOther, speaking to friend and collaborator Shayne Oliver. “I don’t believe in genres, or disciplines of creativity, I like when they blur. I want to see this as a renaissance. I want to see some non-genre-defining amazingness, because I believe that our generation has that.”

Our thoughts are with Abloh’s family, friends and all who knew and loved him⁠.