Virgil Abloh, artistic director for Louis Vuitton and Off-White founder, dies of cancer at 41

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Virgil Abloh
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 05: Virgil Abloh wears a white shirt, a black tie with 'A Formality' slogan, a black blazer jacket with multicolored buttons embroidered, black flared suit pants, a red ring, a gold watch, butterfly sunglasses, outside Louis Vuitton Parfum hosts dinner at Fondation Louis Vuitton, during Paris Fashion Week - Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2021/2022, on July 05, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)

Virgil Abloh was an American fashion designer and entrepreneur. He was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection from 2018 until his death in late 2021.

Abloh was also the chief executive officer of the Milan-based label Off-White, a fashion house he founded in 2012.

A trained architect, Abloh, who also worked in Chicago street fashion, entered the world of international fashion with an internship at Fendi in 2009, alongside American rapper Kanye West.

The two then began an artistic collaboration that would launch Abloh’s career into founding Off-White. The first Black person to be artistic director at a French luxury fashion house, he was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.

The New York Times described Abloh’s bridging of streetwear and luxury clothing together as transformative.

Virgil Abloh

Education

Virgil Abloh was born on September 30, 1980, in Rockford, Illinois, to Ghanaian immigrant parents. His mother was a seamstress[6] and his father managed a paint company. From his mother, he learned how to sew. Abloh was raised in Rockford, where he attended Boylan Catholic High School, graduating in 1998.[5] He graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. He received his Master of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 2006. When Abloh was attending IIT, there was a building on campus under construction designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas (who had also worked on runway collections for Prada) which helped spark his interest in fashion. While studying architecture, he designed T-shirts and wrote on fashion and design for a well-known blog, The Brilliance. Abloh first met popular musician Kanye West while working on his designs at a Chicago print shop.

Career

After graduating from university, Abloh interned at Fendi in the same class as rapper Kanye West in 2009. Placed in the company’s Rome, Italy office, the two began a collaborative relationship. During his work with the rapper and designer, Abloh caught the eye of the Louis Vuitton CEO, Michael Burke. Later that year, Abloh and West’s artistic partner, Don C, launched a retail store, called the RSVP Gallery, located in Chicago. The store became known for carrying a mixture of fashion apparel, and for its reflection of Abloh’s style on his design for the store interior. A year later, West appointed Abloh the creative director of his creative agency, Donda.

In 2011, West asked him to serve as the artistic director for the 2011 Jay-Z/West album Watch the Throne. In 2012, Abloh launched his first company, Pyrex Vision. He purchased deadstock clothing from Ralph Lauren for $40, screen-printed designs on them and sold them for prices upward of $550. The stated goal of Pyrex Vision was to represent the importance of youth culture, by centering the designs around a garment that most youth would notice from gym class. Virgil’s ideas could be clearly geared around the importance of the now. He closed the company down a year later as he did not intend it to be a commercial enterprise, but an artistic experiment.

Music

Abloh’s interest in music led him to DJing beginning in his teens. He DJ’d at house parties throughout high school and college. His influences included DJ’s A-Trak, Benji B, and Gilles Peterson. Over the years, Abloh gained recognition as a DJ and started playing shows internationally. He played at Hi Ibiza and was also booked for the 2019 edition of the Tomorrowland festival. Abloh released his first single “Orvnge” with German DJ/producer Boys Noize in January 2018. In June 2019, Abloh was named to a DJ residency at Wynn Las Vegas’s XS Nightclub, with Wynn also agreeing to open an Off-White store.

In May 2019 Pioneer, maker of DJ consoles, announced its collaboration with Abloh in the design of its transparent CDJ-2000NXS2 and DJM-900NXS2 models. The consoles were displayed at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in the Figures of Speech Exhibition.
In June 2020, Abloh designed the original cover for Pop Smoke album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon. The original cover came under heavy criticism from fans. On July 2, a new cover, designed by Ryder Ripps, was revealed along with the album’s release.

In 2021, he launched a new monthly two-hour internet radio show on Worldwide FM, “Imaginary Radio” c/o Virgil Abloh. The show featured DJ sets and interviews with musicians and other creatives; early guests included artists like electronic artist Omar-S and Alex Sowinski of BadBadNotGood. He previously had a show on Apple Music 1 called “TELEVISED RADIO”. Five episodes were released between 2018 and 2020.

Controversies

Abloh noted that one of his principles is that a new design can be created by changing an original by only three percent. He described his approach as being “ironic detachment” and that Duchamp’s precedence “gives him the grounds to copy and paste, to take and to re-apply.” This philosophy caused Abloh to be accused of plagiarism and appropriation.

The originality of Off-White’s logo design with its alternating parallel diagonal lines has been contested by a number of parties, including Ben Kelly, who popularized this graphic in the early 1980s. Fashion blog Diet Prada has compared several of Abloh’s designs, from chairs to apparel, with existing designs.
Abloh’s FW 2019 collection was based on his “ultimate muse” Michael Jackson. The launch occurred one week prior to the release of Leaving Neverland at the Sundance Film Festival. In response, Louis Vuitton announced they would not produce any items that directly featured Michael Jackson elements. Abloh also received criticism in early 2019 when images of his Off-White team suggested a lack of cultural diversity at his head office.

In 2019, LVMH recorded a 20% growth in sales that were in part attributed to his appointment. However, in December 2019 Abloh predicted that streetwear would die in 2020 as people moved to vintage clothing. On the March 2020 launch of his collaboration with Japanese streetwear designer Nigo, Abloh retracted his earlier comments clarifying that he was only riffing, describing himself as a novice.

During the George Floyd protests in mid-2020, Abloh attracted criticism after posting on social media a screenshot showing that he had made a $50 donation to Miami-based art collective (F)empower to go towards protesters’ legal costs, adding that he was “crazy inspired”. He later said on Instagram that “I can understand your frustration if you think my contributions were limited to $50… [that is] purely false when it comes to the total. I have donated $20,500 to bail funds and other causes related to this movement”, and continued, “I will continue to donate more and will continue to use my voice to urge my peers to do the same”. Abloh also subsequently stated that the looting of businesses during the George Floyd protests was an example of why streetwear “is dead”.

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. He lived in Chicago with his wife and two children. Abloh was of the Ewe ethnicity of the Volta region in Ghana.

Illness/Death
In 2019, Abloh was diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma, though he chose to keep the diagnosis private. He died in Chicago on November 28, 2021, at the age of 41.

Awards and honors
Abloh received his first major award in 2011 when his work designing the cover art for American rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative album Watch the Throne was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. In 2015, Abloh (for Off-White) was one of the finalists for the LVMH Prize. Abloh was the only American designer to be nominated for the award that year. Abloh’s Charlie Hebdo-inspired “War is Not Over!” tees as well as his toppers from his fall 2015 women’s collection gained him the most traction.

He received the Urban Luxe award at the 2017 British Fashion Awards. He also won the International designer of the Year at the GQ Men of the year awards in 2017. Abloh’s Off-White Air Jordan “the Ten” collaboration won 2017’s Shoe of the Year and he received the nod for Accessory Designer of the Year. Abloh was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2018, one of two designers named that year.

In the Time issue, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami wrote that Abloh’s impressive achievements led to his listing. In December 2018, Abloh was honored as a leading innovator by Ebony Power 100 alongside SHAVONE. Abloh was also nominated for 2019 Menswear Designer of the Year.

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