Nov 29, 2021
2 mins read
His expansive approach to design inspired comparisons to artists including Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. For him, clothes were totems of identity.
Virgil Abloh, the barrier-breaking Black designer whose ascent to the heights of the traditional luxury industry changed what was possible in fashion, died on Sunday in Chicago after a two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer. He was 41.
His death was confirmed by his family.
The artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear as well as the founder of his own brand, Off-White, Mr. Abloh was a prolific collaborator with outside brands from Nike to Evian, and a popular fashion theorist whose expansive and occasionally controversial approach to design inspired comparisons with everyone from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons.
Mr. Abloh transformed not just what consumers wanted to wear, bridging hypebeast culture and the luxury world, but what brands wanted in a designer — and the meaning of “fashion” itself.
For him clothes were not garments but fungible totems of identity that sat at the nexus of art, music, politics and philosophy. He was a master of using irony, reference and the self-aware wink (plus the digital world) to re-contextualize the familiar and give it an aura of cultural currency.
A workaholic who maintained a punishing schedule and moonlighted as a DJ and a furniture designer, Mr. Abloh nevertheless seemed to glory in having his fingers in as many pies as possible. Indeed, he referred to himself not as a designer but as a “maker,” in acknowledgment of his own omnivorous creative mind.
Just last July, he had been promoted to a new position within LVMH that would allow him to work across the group’s 75 brands, making him the most powerful Black executive in the most powerful luxury group in the world.
It was a nontraditional job for a nontraditional personality who was more interested in carving a new path in an old industry than following in anyone’s footsteps.
“Virgil is incredibly good at creating bridges between the classic and the zeitgeist of the moment,” Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton, told The New York Times when Mr. Abloh was named to the luxury brand.
Ikram Goldman, the owner of an eponymous Chicago boutique, described him as a “hero.”
Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Ill., on Sept. 30, 1980, to Nee and Eunice Abloh, Ghanaian immigrants, and grew up immersed in skate culture and hip-hop.
Though he did not formally study fashion — he studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology — his mother was a seamstress, and she taught him the basics of her trade.
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