Virgil Abloh Fulfilled His Wildest Dreams. May He Rest in Peace, 1980-2021

Remembering the pioneering artist & designer, Virgil Abloh, and the impact he had on Louis Vuitton, his brand Off-White, music, architecture, his peers, & more.

Virgil Abloh Obituary

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Virgil Abloh Obituary

Virgil Abloh, a pioneering artist and designer whose work spanned fashion, architecture, music, and art, died on Sunday, Nov. 28 of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer. He was 41. 

His family announced his death Sunday via his Instagram page and revealed that Abloh was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 but chose to fight it privately. In September 2019, he told Vogue that his doctor advised him to take a break from travel. Abloh didn’t say he was dealing with cancer, but he did offer that it took him more effort than usual to bounce back from an overseas trip, which led him to seeing a doctor. The doctor said Abloh’s pace coupled with extensive travel and a heavy workload wasn’t good for his health, and ordered Abloh to work from home for the next three months. 

But by January 2020, Abloh, who ran his own brand, Off-White, and served as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s, was back. He made appearances at the Off-White men’s and Louis Vuitton men’s Fall 2020 shows. He then spent the pandemic being just as prolific as he normally was, producing fashion collections from his home in Chicago and launching new resources like the “Imaginary Radio” station, a platform for creatives, Public Domain, a site that cataloged his archival design work for Nike, and the “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund for Black fashion industry leaders.

Abloh was an infinitely curious artist and a repository of information, which he showcased through his work. He didn’t call himself a designer, but rather a maker, and abided by a “3 percent approach,” the idea that you only need to change something by 3 percent in order for it to feel recognizable and completely new. It was a philosophy he picked up from one of his biggest influences, Marcel Duchamp, the French-American artist who recontextualized common objects and turned them into pieces of art. Abloh was adept at recontextualizing things through his lens as a first generation Ghanaian-American. He pulled from reference points ranging from Princess Diana and Andy Warhol to the Wu-Tang Clan and skater Stevie Williams. Through his work, which drew in consumers of all ages, he redefined what it meant to be a creative director at LVMH and who should have access to the rarefied institution.

Virgil Abloh Obituary
Virgil Abloh Obituary
Virgil Abloh Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2019 Show

In 2017, Abloh dropped “The Ten” with Nike, which became the designer’s first sneaker collaboration and one of his most iconic releases. The footwear brand let Abloh deconstruct 10 of Nike’s most iconic silhouettes, everything from the Air Jordan 1 to the Air Max 97. Abloh’s Nike sneakers became highly coveted grails that created a level of hype within the sneaker industry that impacted the market. He continued his popular collabs with Nike up until his untimely death, having just released an Air Jordan 2 collaboration with the brand earlier this month. 

His appointment as the first Black men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton in 2018—following Marc Jacobs’ and Kim Jones’ work at the house—and the second Black creative director at the luxury conglomerate (Ozwald Boateng was named creative director at Givenchy Homme, which is owned by LVMH, in 2003) was a momentous occasion. It was a rare sign of inclusion within luxury fashion and signaled that streetwear transcended certain labels the fashion industry placed on it. “This opportunity to think through what the next chapter of design and luxury will mean at a brand that represents the pinnacle of luxury was always a goal in my wildest dreams. And to show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start,” Abloh told The New York Times.

Abloh was clear on his purpose and intention from the start. For his first Louis Vuitton Men’s show, which took place in June 2018 in front of the Palais-Royal at the Place Colette in Paris, he connected the brand’s heritage in travel to a global view on diversity. He introduced show notes that included a world diagram that displayed each model’s birthplace and the birthplace of their parents. He also offered show attendees a T-shirt to represent his roots in streetwear. He brought back the Millionaire sunglasses, a design created by Nigo and Pharrell in 2004, and filled his rainbow-colored runway with artists including Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti, Steve Lacy, and Dev Hynes. The show ended with a teary embrace from West. 

Virgil Abloh Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2020

Abloh maintained that momentum throughout his tenure, bringing a different type of relevance to the brand by partnering with the NBA, collaborating with Nigo, and tapping Chicago legend Reggieknow to create unique characters for his Spring/Summer 2021 collection. Louis Vuitton became a conduit for people, places, and things the brand didn’t recognize before Abloh arrived.

He also continued to work on his Off-White line and partnered with a multitude of companies, including Baccarat, Evian, Timberland, Ikea, Warby Parker, and more. In a short amount of time, Abloh created a substantial oeuvre, which he displayed in his exhibit “Figures of Speech,” which started at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2019, and traveled to Atlanta and Boston. He also documented his extensive work for Nike with his Virgil Abloh. Nike. ICONS book. Earlier this year, LVMH gave Abloh a bigger role and acquired a majority stake in Off-White. “I’m getting a seat at the table,” Abloh told The New York Times.

Abloh was always a consummate collaborator who was generous with information, but he spent the last couple of years offering even more through his “Free Game” program and the Club House chats he hosted with the Culture Club. He was most recently working on his Spring/Summer 2022 Louis Vuitton men’s show that was set to debut in Miami at Art Basel on Tuesday, Nov. 30. The presentation will now take place as a tribute show. 

Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, and his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh. 

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