virgil abloh

Virgil Abloh, Barrier-Breaking Designer, Dead at 41

After a private two-year cancer battle, inspiring taste-maker and fashion trailblazer Virgil Abloh passed away on November 28 at the age of 41. Known for his effortless ability to merge Hypebeast sensibilities with old-money luxury, Abloh emerged as one of the most important and influential designers of his generation. If you called him a “designer,” he’d likely correct you because Abloh preferred the “maker” label.

In his short life, Abloh accomplished loads. After earning a bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the child of Ghanaian immigrants went on to get a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Fate intervened when Abloh met Kanye West at a screen-printing store in 2002. In short order, Abloh joined the singer’s creative team, which eventually became Donda. Never one to fumble an opportunity, Abloh went from strength to strength. In 2009, he broke onto the fashion scene as one of the Donda designers at Paris Fashion Week. That same year, West and Abloh interned at Fendi for six months to learn the fashion business ropes.

From there, the outer atmosphere was the limit, and Abloh hoped in a rocket. He became the menswear artistic director of Louis Vuitton, started a wildly popular brand, Off-White, and launched several high-profile collaborations with Nike, Evian, and even McDonald’s. Time Magazine named him one of the most influential people of 2018, and most recently, Abloh became the “most powerful” Black fashion executive in the world by earning a seat at the LVMH table overseeing all categories from garments to hotels.

A renowned workaholic, Abloh moonlighted as a DJ, packaging artist, and IKEA furniture designer. He also curated and created exhibits for the Louvre, Gagosian, and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Occasionally, he served as a celebrity stylist to Beyonce, Spike Lee, Kim Kardashian, Michael B. Jordan, and Timothée Chalamet. To ensure the door didn’t slam shut behind him in the homogeneous world of luxury fashion, Abloh created a scholarship fund for Black students pursuing careers in the industry.

His unconventional approach to fashion and use of pop-culture markers put Abloh in the artistic pantheon alongside Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Karl Largerfeld — and like them, his work attracted naysaying critics. Mostly, intransigent design veterans grumbled that he did more “copying” than “creating.” Regardless, his vision, perseverance, and popularity broke barriers in a notoriously closed industry.  

Upon news of Abloh’s passing, Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH, praised the designer, calling him a “visionary” with “a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”