Virgil Abloh, a pioneering designer whose breakthrough fusions of streetwear and haute couture made him one of the most well-known tastemakers in fashion and beyond, died of cancer. He was 41 years old at the time.
The luxury firm LVMH (Louis Vuitton Mot Hennessy) and Abloh’s own Off-White label, which he created in 2013, both revealed Abloh’s death on Sunday. Abloh was the menswear artistic director for Louis Vuitton, but his omnipresent, consumer-friendly impact in culture was broad and dynamic. He’s been compared to Jeff Koons by some. Others compared him to Karl Lagerfeld of his generation.
“This dreadful news has left us all stunned. “Virgil was not just a brilliant designer and visionary, but also a guy with a lovely spirit and enormous knowledge,” said Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH.
Abloh was diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare kind of cancer in which a tumor develops in the heart, two years ago, according to a statement posted on the designer’s Instagram account by his family.
“Since his diagnosis in 2019, he has chosen to fight his struggle in seclusion, undertaking multiple rigorous treatments while leading several key institutions spanning fashion, art, and culture,” the statement added.
In 2018, Abloh became Louis Vuitton’s first Black creative director of men’s clothing in the company’s illustrious history. Abloh, a first-generation Ghanaian American who learned to sew from his mother, had no professional fashion training but did have a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in architecture.
Abloh, who grew up in Rockford, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, was known in the fashion industry as a Renaissance guy. He also worked as a DJ on the side. He rose to prominence as one of fashion’s most celebrated designers in a short period of time. Abloh referred to himself as a “creator.” In 2018, he was named one of Time magazine’s most powerful people.
While working at a screen-printing shop in 2009, Abloh met Kanye West, now known as Ye. Abloh was Ye’s creative director when they interned together at the LVMH brand Fendi. Abloh was the art director for Ye-Jay-2011 Z’s album “Watch the Throne,” for which he received a Grammy nomination.
Abloh’s partnership with West served as a model for future cross-border collaborations that combined high and low. He collaborated with Nike on a range of frenzy-inducing sneakers that were altered with a variety of designs and Helvetica fonts. Abloh has also created furniture for IKEA, Evian refillable bottles, and McDonald’s Big Mac containers. The Louvre, the Gagosian, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago have all shown his work.
The news of Abloh’s death shocked the entertainment industry. On Twitter, actor Riz Ahmed claimed Abloh “extended culture and altered the game.” “You taught us all how to dream,” wrote fashion designer Jeff Staple. “A compassionate, kind, sensitive creative genius,” Pharrell Williams said of Abloh.
Abloh applied a “3 percent approach” to fashion, claiming that a new design could be developed by tweaking an old one by 3%. Critics claimed Abloh was better at repackaging than inventing new things. But Abloh’s approach was also self-aware — he was known for using quote marks — and high-minded.
In 2019, Abloh told the New Yorker, “Streetwear in my mind is tied to Duchamp.” “It’s this readymade concept.” I’m referring to New York’s Lower East Side. It’s similar to hip-hop. It’s a form of sampling. I take James Brown’s tune, cut it up, and turn it into a new song.”
Stars waited in line to get outfitted by Virgil Abloh. His outfits have been worn by Beyoncé, Michael B. Jordan, Kim Kardashian West, Timothée Chalamet, and Serena Williams.
Abloh’s Off-White label, in which LVMH bought a controlling share earlier this year, established him as a cool judge. However, Abloh’s employment at Louis Vuitton catapulted him to the pinnacle of an industry in which he had previously been a scrappy outsider — and made him one of the most influential Black executives in a historically closed fashion business.
“I now have a platform to disrupt the business,” Abloh told GQ as he prepared for his first menswear presentation in 2018.
“We’re designers,” Abloh explained, “so we can create a trend, we can highlight concerns, we can make a lot of people concentrate on something or we can make a lot of people focus on ourselves.” “It’s not something I’m interested in” (the latter). I’d like to use my position as one of a very tiny number of African-American guys to build a house and present people in a poetic way.”
Shannon Abloh and Lowe and Grey Abloh, Abloh’s children, survive him.