Famed designer Virgil Abloh, who tragically passed away at the age of 41 on Sunday, said music was “his only peace of mind.” In 2016, he told The Guardian, “When the phone is off, I play my favorite songs really loud for myself,” and he predicted, “I’ll be DJing after I’m done designing or doing anything else.”
Many of us love music as much as Abloh expressed, but few are blessed to indulge in it between (or in the midst of) the many creative ventures he explored—nor do we get the chance to amplify the artists we love through our own passions. In addition to his pursuits as a designer, Abloh worked hand in hand with a who’s who of rap, even designing album covers and directing music videos for artists like Kanye, ASAP Rocky, and Pop Smoke, among many others.
Rappers have a long history of dropping the names of luxury brands as status symbols, but Abloh was the rare high-fashion designer who loved hip-hop as much as the game loved him. There have been artists who sold enough records or caused enough cultural commotion for the average Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or Givenchy director to get a whiff of them and send an invitation to sit at a Fashion Week show. But Virgil listened to rap while creating his collections, and he was on the ground enough to participate in the come-ups of artists like Pop Smoke and Octavian. Rap was an integral part of his process, not an afterthought.
Virgil, like the rappers he loved, was using his gifts to infiltrate the establishment.
The Chicago native has said that he started DJing in 1998, and was inspired by turntablists such as “his idol” A-Trak, as well as Roc Raida, Invisibl Skratch Piklz, and Mix Master Mike. He explored his passion for music even while ascending in the fashion world after interning at Fendi in 2009 (alongside his close friend Kanye West). His proximity to Kanye helped lead to other relationships in rap, which he carried on as the founder of Off-White, creative director of Kanye’s creative agency DONDA, and later the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear.
Abloh told Highsnobiety, “I made my DJ career where I could fit in, and that was usually in a hip-hop club,” boasting about being one of “the first kids playing Travis Scott in a club that was selling bottles.” He did DJ sets all over the world, including opening for Travis during the 2017 Birds Eye View Tour and doing a set for fashion brand The Hundreds’ 10th Anniversary party. He did sets at major festivals, including 2018’s Camp Flog Gnaw and 2019’s Tomorrowland, and even got the honor of debuting the full version of his friend Kanye’s “Fade” during a November 2015 set in London. Drake complimented Virgil’s DJing skills during a 2018 Brooklyn performance, noting, “I thought this shit was like a party in the club, but shit is like a festival.”