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Remembering Virgil Abloh, the designer and founder of Off-White and Creative Director of Louis Vuitton

It was announced on Sunday that the designer had died at the age of 41 years, after a battle with cancer.

2021-11-29

Words: Joseph Kocharian; pictures: Instagram / @virgilabloh

Virgil Abloh, the man behind Off-White as well as the Creative Director at Louis Vuitton, has died aged 41 after battling a rare, aggressive form of cancer.

The announcement of the designer’s death was made on Sunday (28 November) on his official Instagram account. He is survived by his wife Shannon and their two children.

Here, our Fashion and Beauty Director, Joseph Kocharian, looks back on Abloh's life and career and the impact he had on and beyond the fashion industry. 

 
 
 
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"We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh," reads the statement on Abloh's Instagram account. "He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.

"Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered. Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design.

He often said, 'Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,' believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations," it continues. 

 
 
 
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Abloh was at the forefront of a new age of fashion. Multidisciplined (originally training as an architect) he did so much more than just design clothes. Virgil often collaborated with the biggest brands, including Nike and Ikea, as well as icons such as Serena Williams.

The tennis star wore his designs on the court, as well as the Met Gala, even collaborating on her Nike collection in 2018. He dressed everyone from Beyonce, A$AP Rocky, and Timothée Chalamet. Hailey Bieber commissioned the bridal gown for her wedding to Justin Bieber from Abloh. 

Born in Rockford Illinois, Abloh told Teen Vogue, "from a very young age, I was into hip-hop and skateboarding" which led to his interest in clothes. Starting out, Abloh interned at Fendi, before going on to be Creative Director at Kanye West’s creative agency Donda, where he produced the artwork for Watch the Throne, earning him a Grammy nomination, for best recording package.

His next venture was Pyrex Vision, where he repurposed Ralph Lauren polos with screen-printed graphics that sold out in mere minutes. From there, in 2013, he founded his own fashion label, Off-White, which gained cult-like status in the fashion world.

Many wanted a piece of the brand in a way that only the likes of skater brand titans Supreme and the Hermes bag have enjoyed.

His collections featured the signature clothing tags (to be left on the clothes) and text that stated exactly what they said on the tin, such as "for cards", "wallet" and "shoelaces" on the famous Nike/Off-White collaborations.  

 
 
 
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In 2018 Abloh turned his attention to Louis Vuitton menswear, where he was appointed Creative Director.

He was the first black designer at the brand, and one of only a handful of black designers taking the top job at a French fashion house, following Olivier Rousteing and Ozwald Boateng at Balmain and Givenchy menswear, respectively.

Abloh brought the demand from his own brand to Louis Vuitton, with customers lining up for the luxury brand. With a dynamic, creative vision, including rainbow runways and bringing his architecture training into his clothing, his collections always had the crowds clambering for whatever they could get their hands on.

 
 
 
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Virgil’s creativity transcended past clothing, permeating through to music. He designed album covers for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne, working closely with West over various projects over the decades.

Celebrities such as Venus Williams, Timothée Chalamet, Bella, and Gigi Hadid, and people at the apex of the fashion world, including British Vogue’s Edward Enninful and Carine Roitfeld have all posted tributes to the visionary. 

Venus on Instagram that she was devastated by Abloh's passing saying, "I always watched everything he did so closely and it inspired me to be better in everything I do. His collections literally brought me to tears because they were so connected so beautiful and so inspiring."

 
 
 
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Rest in Power, Virgil.