The Undeniable Legacy of Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh challenged everything and won
The fashion world was rocked Sunday by the news of the passing of American designer, Virgil Abloh. At only 41 years of age, Abloh succumbed to a rare and aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, a battle in which he chose to keep private since his diagnosis in 2019.
Amidst a diagnosis that only two short years later proved to be fatal, Abloh worked with a vigor and an energy that was unrivaled in the space in which he made his name.
"Defining the gray area between between black and white as the color of Off-White. " - Virgil Abloh
Born on September 30, 1980 in Rockford, Illinois. Abloh was the son of Ghanaian immigrants; his mother, a seamstress - his father, managed a paint company. So, it only was predestined for Virgil to follow in his parents footsteps in some capacity, however the final product exceed those early dreams of the Chicago kid.
Not taking a conventional route into the guarded world of fashion, Abloh's spark came from architecture. Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, Abloh would obtain his Master of Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006. He famously interned at Fendi alongside Kanye West in 2009 and made his unique artistic mark in the world of graphic design and famously put his touch on various album covers from; West's 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in which he served as Art Director, to the gold foil on 2011's Watch the Throne, 2013's Yeezus - just to name a few. However, it was in 2012 Abloh's first mainstream venture into fashion was birthed in Pyrex Vision.
The deeply historic, rich and at times almost-gothic imagery was the calling card of Pyrex Vision. Bold and the depiction strong visuals began to entered Abloh into the conversation a new streetwear renaissance; where streetwear was as luxurious as the high fashion Pyrex Vision emulated and challenged in both product quality and price point.
"In a large part streetwear is seen as cheap. What my goal has been is to add an intellectual layer to it and make it credible." - Virgil Abloh
In 2013, Abloh founded OFF-WHITE and it would become his masterpiece. His canvas for his thoughts, his visions, his directions. By 2017, everything Abloh touched was instantly turned into gold. His Midas touch was expanded by leaps and bounds from fashion, to artwork and art direction on album covers, multiple collaborations with Nike, Markerad collection with IKEA and becoming the first African-American artistic director in the 167-year existence of Louis Vuitton in 2018. The latter shattered a glass ceiling within the fashion industry; which has been known to have deeply racial motives and practices through dedication, persistence, education, execution and authenticity to himself. Never compromising his moral compass or being ashamed of his African roots or humble beginnings, but to prove that a man of dark skin can reach heights once perceived to be unachievable and serves as inspiration for the next generation of African-American designers and those with aspirations to follow the blueprint - the free game that Abloh has now left the world. And by the conclusion of 2018, was named to Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.
The man who challenged everything and won - that is how Abloh is to be remembered. It is how we chose to remember him. Not simply a man who created product that we wear and enjoy, not just the diagonal stripes and zip ties or the dynamic OFF or WHITE on his work, and his famous use of "QUOTATIONS". Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH said of Abloh after the announcement of his passing, "Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom."
He challenged the systems in place in fashion, in architecture, in art, in life. His perspective was just that - to speak realistically to lucid metaphors with such a confidence that your mind had no choice but to agree and understand what you were witnessing and experiencing was indeed real and larger than the moment in time in which it happened. Whether it was an expression of art from his exhibits in New York, Chicago, Boston or Paris where he weeped tears of joy as he saw his visions once again come to life at the unveiling of the first Louis Vuitton menswear line under his direction and tearful embrace with West.
Abloh's ability to communicate what he was envisioning and translating it to product or into words or into accessories as concrete metaphors separates him from his peers. And even in this moment, as the world mourns and grieves the loss of a giant in streetwear, a titan in sneaker culture, an aristocrat of design and pioneer for diversity in high fashion - the legacy of Abloh is undeniable.
He challenged everything and won.
Abloh is survived by his wife, Shannon and their two children. May he rest in peace.