Virgil Abloh gave visibility to millennials in the world of haute couture.
An avid skater who moonlighted as a DJ, Abloh brought hip-hop to high fashion by marrying it with all things athleisure and shabby chic. His artistic touch is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s. Yet he marketed his vision to a target audience much like the late Karl Lagerfeld.
Abloh, creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear and founder of influential streetwear brand Off-White, died of a rare form of cancer in Chicago on Sunday. He was only 41 years old.
Abloh understood the line, shape, drape and artistry of the contemporary wardrobe. Its clean lines, its natural palette, its crumpled jogging bottoms, its graphic and screen-printed hoodies and bubble jackets have drawn on the times. His clothes were streetwear that took its place in the settings of high fashion. We wanted to wear his clothes because we felt good in it and we looked good in it. Even during the pandemic, shoppers lined up for city blocks and through the King of Prussia Mall to enter Louis Vuitton boutiques selling the hooded trench coats and cargo pants with huge pockets designed by Abloh.
He was largely responsible for the grungy, Afro-futuristic vibe of Kanye West’s Yeezy clothing and sneaker line after the rapper, now known as Ye, hired Abloh as his creative director in 2010. Abloh n had no formal training in fashion. In fact, he holds degrees in engineering and architecture. Still, he was a fashion industry titan. He has dressed Serena Williams, Timothée Chalamet and Drake, among others.
Amanda Gorman wore a floor-length tailoring for Vogue’s May 2021 cover. The dress, with its beautiful Kente fabric pattern and gold belt at the waist, featured a deep slit above the knee. Abloh sparked a wave of fashion chatter when he dressed Spike Lee in a hot pink suit for his role as chairman of the Cannes Film Festival grand jury in May.
Celebrities expressed their condolences on Twitter on Sunday, as did Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, who confirmed Abloh’s death. “We are all shocked after this terrible news,” Arnault said in a statement. “Virgil was not only a brilliant designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.” Earlier this year, LVMH became the largest shareholder in Abloh’s brand, Off-White.
By the time Abloh entered the high fashion game in the late years, the creative directors of fashion houses from Fendi to Chanel were well accustomed to choosing pieces of hip-hop culture – baggy pants, hoodies. , oversized white t-shirts – and repackage them like theirs before sending them out on the slopes. Black designers at the head of contemporary lines for men were hip-hop artists like Jay-Z’s (Roccawear) and Sean “Love” Combs (Sean John).
Abloh was simply a designer. And like Willi Smith of Philadelphia, who died at age 39 in 1987, Abloh has drawn inspiration from the music and lifestyle of the people of his world.
When Ye decided to go into fashion early on, he interned at Fendi to build his credibility. There he met Abloh who was also an intern. In 2010, Ye hired Abloh as the Creative Director of his emerging fashion line. Abloh helped define the aesthetic straight out of Yeezy’s bed, where sweatshirts with jagged holes have reached new fashion heights.
In 2012, Abloh launched their streetwear line Off-White in Milan. Its collections have remained filled with leggings, zip-up jackets and sporty girdles in basic black, white and cream, the kind of clothing designed to be worn with sneakers. Like those of many high-end designers, Off-White’s runway collection is more about art than portability. Abloh would add unforgettable pops of color, like in a banana yellow hoodie for $ 375.
“He occupied one of those spaces that blacks in industry never see themselves in,” said Kevin Parker, founder and producer of Philadelphia Fashion Week and co-chair of the Philadelphia Fashion and Garment Industry Task Force. “It really hurts. When you walk around Philadelphia and so many people wear the Off-White brand, the belts, the accessories, you know it occupied a space in hip-hop culture and fashion like no other. He had such an impact.
Abloh saw himself as a designer and his work extended beyond fashion. He’s worked with Ikea to make furniture, Nike for sneakers, Evian to make reusable water bottles, and he’s even designed Big Mac boxes for McDonalds.
A retrospective of Abloh’s work, Figures of speech, debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 2019. The exhibit, a collection of iconic Abloh clothing, fashion show videos and furniture designs, just finished a run at the Institute of Contemporary Art from Boston.
Abloh was a first generation American, born in Ghanaian parents in Rockford, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. His mother taught him to sew. Two years ago, Abloh was diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that causes a tumor to grow in the heart. A statement on Abloh’s Instagram read: “He has chosen to endure his battle in private since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing many difficult treatments while leading several important institutions that span fashion, art and culture.”
Abloh is survived by his wife, Shannon, her children, Lowe and Gray, and leaves an impressive fashion legacy that will forever inspire the work of young designers – and hip-hop leaders.