By Christopher Turner
Virgil Abloh, the widely acclaimed menswear designer for Louis Vuitton and the founder and CEO of Off-White, died on Sunday November 28 after a private battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. He was 41.
“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend. He is survived by his loving wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh, and numerous dear friends and colleagues,” said a post from his verified Instagram account.
“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma. 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.”
“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.”
“We thank you all for your love and support, and we ask for privacy as we grieve and celebrate Virgil’s life,” the post stated.
The luxury group LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, also released a statement. The statement included a quote from LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, which read: “We are all shocked after this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”
As fashion lovers around the world celebrate the life of Virgil Abloh, we take a look back at 15 things that you may not have known about the barrier-breaking Black designer.
1. Virgil Abloh was born on September 30, 1980 in Rockford, Illinois. His mother was a seamstress and she taught him the basics of clothing design and construction, which undoubtedly paved the way for his future success in the fashion industry.
2. Although his parents are from Ghana, Abloh was raised in Chicago and attended Boylan Catholic High School where he graduated in 1998. Following high school he earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Rumour has it that on the day of his 2002 graduation, he skipped his final critique to take a meeting with Kanye West’s then-manager John Monopoly. West and Abloh begin officially working together soon after.
3. Abloh was particularly interested in the Post-Modern architectural style of Deconstructivism (the influence of which can clearly be seen in his clothing design) and in 2006 he completed his master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. During his time at IIT, a Rem Koolhaas building is completed, which Abloh said, “piqued my interest and opened my gateway into fashion.”
4. Abloh was a DJ and touched turntables in the most envious parts of the world. He started DJ’ing at house parties throughout high school and college before gaining recognition and going on to play shows internationally throughout his career.
5. Abloh wed his wife, Shannon, in 2009 after meeting her in high school. Before his death he and his wife lived in Chicago with their two children.
6. In 2009 Abloh and West become interns at Fendi in Rome. Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke recently told The New York Times, “I was really impressed with how [Abloh and West] brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old school as Fendi. I have been following his career ever since.”
7. In 2010 Abloh officially assumed the role of creative director at Donda, West’s creative agency. The following year he earned a Grammy nomination after he art directed the album Watch the Throne (with a cover design by Riccardo Tisci, then the creative director at Givenchy) by Jay-Z and West.
8. In 2012 Abloh launched his first brand, Pyrex Vision, in New York. He purchased deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts for about $40 each, and then screen printed them with the word Pyrex and the number 23, an homage to his childhood hero, Michael Jordan. They sold for $550 US each.
9. Within a year Abloh rebranded his company as Off-White, a multi-platform creative endeavor and high-end streetwear label. Based in Milan, Italy, the company was described by Abloh as “the gray area between black and white as the color off-white” to investors and fashion critics.
10. By the end of 2018, an index of sales and consumer sentiment ranked Off-White as the hottest label in the world, surpassing Gucci. Since it’s inception Off-White has done high profile collaborations with numerous high-profile brands including: Nike, Converse, Champion, Ikea, Timberland, Levi’s, Moncler, Sunglass Hut, A$AP Rocky’s label AWGE, Jimmy Choo, Kith, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and Swedish perfume house Byredo.
11. Throughout his career Abloh maintained that one of his principles was that a new design could be created by changing an original by only three percent. He described his approach as being “ironic detachment” and that Duchamp’s precedence gave “him the grounds to copy and paste, to take and to re-apply.” This philosophy created a ton of hype and press, but it also caused Abloh to be accused of plagiarism and appropriation.
12. On March 25, 2018, Abloh was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear ready wear line stepping into the role vacated by his friend and mentor Kim Jones. He becomes one of the few Black designers at the helm of a major French fashion house and upon his acceptance of the position, he stated, “It is an honor for me to accept this position. 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.”
13. Abloh was nominated for and won numerous awards throughout his career. Besides his Grammy nomination he was also a finalist for the LVMH Prize in 2015. He received the Urban Luxe award at the 2017 British Fashion Awards, won International designer of the Year at the GQ men of the year awards in 2017 and won Shoe of the Year and received the nod for Accessory Designer of the Year at the 2017 CFDA Awards (Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards). In 2018 he was included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, one of two designers named that year and later that year he was honoured as a leading innovator by Ebony Power 100. The following year he was also nominated for 2019 Menswear Designer of the Year at the 2019 CFDA Awards.
14. In 2020, he established the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund. Abloh raised $1 million for the scholarships which will be managed by the Fashion Scholarship Fund to assist Black students.
15. In July 2021, LVMH announced that they had acquired a majority stake in Off-White in an agreement that all sides hoped would begin a new chapter. LVMH took a 60% stake in Off-White, with Abloh retaining the remaining 40%.