The fashion world is mourning the loss of Ghanaian-American fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who died on Sunday at the age of 41. Abloh, who was Louis Vuitton’s first Black artistic director, passed away after a battle with cancer.
“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” a statement on his Instagram page said. “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.”
Since March 2018, the name Abloh has been keenly followed in the fashion industry. The Ghanaian American became the center of attention when he was named Louis Vuitton’s new artistic director and gave big fashion labels a run for their money with the release of Off-White, the streetwear and luxury fashion label that brought an edgy twist into the fashion game.
The fashion icon had said that one of his aims is to create a fashion label that feels luxurious but yet affordable to anyone who is attracted to the very different and edgy designs. And he did just that, changing the world through fashion. Here’s everything you need to know about the trailblazing designer the world will never forget:
Born to Ghanaian immigrants
Abloh was born on September 30, 1980, in Rockford, Illinois to Ghanaian immigrant parents Nee and Eunice Abloh. He completed his high school diploma at Boylan Catholic High School and went for his post-secondary studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 2002.
He first trained as an architect
Abloh was studying for a Master of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology when he fell in love with fashion. His mom, who was a seamstress, taught him the basics of clothing design. And thanks to that, alongside the design concepts he studied at school and the street culture of Chicago, Abloh entered the fashion world. He started by first designing t-shirts while being a contributor to a popular streetwear blog known as The Brilliance, where he would sometimes criticize top-notch brands for the poor materials they used.
Abloh worked with top names such as Kanye West
The first time Abloh met rapper Kanye West was in 2007 while Abloh was working at Chicago print shop Custom Kings. West appreciated the works and designs of Abloh and asked the Ghanaian American to work with him. “So he was like, ‘I am going to hire you, and let’s literally work on this 24–7, laptop in hand, nonstop,’” Abloh recalled in an interview with GQ in 2019. “So more than any title, I was just his assistant creatively.”
Abloh would work on the merchandising and graphics for West’s album, Graduation. The two also worked on West’s first sneaker collaboration with Louis Vuitton in 2009, which helped make streetwear popular. Abloh and West also interned together at Fendi to learn more about clothing design. As time went on, Abloh got to meet other big names in the music and art world including Michael Burke, the then-CEO of Louis Vuitton, and Jay-Z. Abloh worked as creative director on Jay-Z’s collaborative album with West, Watch The Throne.
Before Off-White, there was Pyrex Vision
Before earning acclaim as the founder of Off-White, Abloh launched a company named Pyrex Vision in 2012. Pyrex Vision, which was his first company, took deadstock from high-end designers and transformed them into a new brand. Even though the company did amazingly well and helped establish Abloh’s name in the fashion industry, Abloh shut it down after only one year, saying that it was “a side project and an artistic experiment,” according to reports.
Then came Off-White, which he founded in Milan in 2012. Worn by celebrities including Beyonce, Rihanna, Travis Scott, and Kylie Jenner, it was with Off-White that he became hugely successful. With 49 stores across the globe, Off-White blends high fashion and streetwear and has been described as one of the most influential contemporary fashion labels in recent years.
The label has worked with prominent brands such as Nike, helping to redesign several of Nike’s most popular sneakers. Abloh would create a unique kit for tennis star Serena Williams and collaborate with Canadian retailer SSENSE to create a high-end collection of training and workout clothes. Abloh has also designed furniture for Ikea and worked on contemporary art with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
Recently, Abloh designed a wedding dress for Hailey Bieber for her wedding to Justin Bieber. The gown came with a magnificent veil that had Abloh’s signature design traits of statements boldly written, reading “till death do us part”.
Why the famous quotation marks on his pieces
Abloh’s Off-White pieces usually come with heavy quotation marks. Those marks, he said, are not just for aesthetic reasons but to highlight social norms while challenging people’s perceptions, a report said. All in all, Abloh uses his pieces to make political statements. After Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, the Ghanaian-American designer created a line of clothing focusing on the international refugee crisis and immigration.
He made fashion history in 2018
In 2018, Abloh was appointed as the artistic director of the menswear ready-wear line at Louis Vuitton, making him the first Black person to hold the title that was previously held by another fashion icon, Marc Jacobs.
“When I stepped into the role, my office is [Marc’s] exact same office. I’m coming in at a time to re-interpret or channel this brand into the modern era. And I’m very much following in the steps of someone who I admire and put a great deal of belief into. I was carrying on a tradition that I believed in,” Abloh said after he took over from Jacobs in 2018.
In that year, Abloh was also featured on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in the world. The year before that, he was made GQ’s international designer of the year and was awarded the Urban Luxe prize at the British Fashion Awards. Back in 2011, the fashion revolutionary won a Grammy for Best Recording Package for his work with Kanye West and Jay-Z.
He was a DJ and a family man
Abloh loved music, and while at school and college, he would DJ at house parties. Soon, he started playing internationally and would release his own music. He even became a resident DJ at a Las Vegas nightclub in 2019.
The influential fashion designer leaves behind two children and his wife Shannon Abloh, who he married in 2009 after they first met in high school.