The world is reeling over the loss of visionary designer and artist Virgil Abloh. Abloh died today of a rare form of cancer called cardiac angiosarcoma, which he battled privately for two years. Best known for his “OFF-WHITE” collection, Abloh changed the face of fashion mixing street style (Hypebeast) with luxury brands and politics, influencing the direction of fashion and what constitutes luxury.
Abloh oversaw the expansion of OFF-WHITE, which started as a menswear line, into womenswear and in 2014 opened OFF-WHITE’s international flagship store in Hong Kong.
The New York Times‘ Vanessa Friedman writes:
“The artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear as well as the founder of his own brand, Off-White, Mr. Abloh was a prolific collaborator with outside brands from Nike to Evian, and a popular fashion theorist whose expansive and occasionally controversial approach to design inspired comparisons with everyone from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons.
Mr. Abloh transformed not just what consumers wanted to wear, bridging hypebeast culture and the luxury world, but what brands wanted in a designer — and the meaning of “fashion” itself.
For him clothes were not garments but fungible totems of identity that sat at the nexus of art, music, politics and philosophy. He was a master of using irony, reference and the self-aware wink (plus the digital world) to re-contextualize the familiar and give it an aura of cultural currency.”
Abloh, who referred to himself as a “maker” collaborated with many entities producing music, DJ’ing and exhibiting his work in museums around the world. On November 5, Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech, a mid-career retrospective of Abloh’s work, opened at the Garage Gallery at the Fire Station, the first museum exhibition of his work presented in the Middle East. The exhibition runs until March 31, 2022.
Born in Rockford, IL to Ghanaian parents, Abloh was a self-taught artist and designer. He studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin and received a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He learned how to sew from his mother Eunice, who was a seamstress. His big break came at age 22 when he met rap superstar Kanye West and embarked on a journey that included performing a $500 internship at Fendi (along with West) and eventually becoming creative director of Donda, West’s fashion incubator. He worked on a series of collaborations eventually launching his own line, taking his shows to Paris and applying to for the LVMH prize for young designers in 2015. Abloh was a finalist setting the stage for the next phase of his fashion career.
Abloh advocated taking other designers designs, changing them a little bit and making it your own — a remix if you will. Abloh’s work was initially met with resistance in the fashion world but his masterful use of social media to discuss his theories around fashion, art and technology, helped the artist gain millions of followers, to whom he could sell directly. Abloh became a major influencer in fashion, art, music and technology and was celebrated for his intellectual approach to fashion and design.
In 2018, Louis Vuitton named him artistic director and in 2019, he opened a major exhibit of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago titled “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech,” which was exhibited throughout the country. On November 5, Figures of Speech opened at the Garage Gallery at the Fire Station, the first museum exhibition of his work presented in the Middle East. In 2020, Abloh established the “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, raising $1 million to encourage Black students to pursue careers in fashion. In May, Abloh styled Spike Lee for his role as Grand Jury president at the Cannes Film Festival.
Abloh,who was hospitalized at the time of his death, split his time between Illinois and Paris. He kept his cancer battle quiet, naming exhaustion as a reason for his inability to travel.
Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon, children Lowe and Grey, his sister Edwina and parents Nee and Eunice Abloh. He was 41.
Read more about Virgil Abloh at the New York Times.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.