African designers pay tribute to the late Virgil Abloh

African fashion designers on Monday paid
tribute to American star designer Virgil Abloh for helping “open the door” and
allowing them to be seen and heard in the global industry.

Artistic director for Louis Vuitton men’s collections, Abloh, whose family
was from Ghana, died on Sunday of cancer aged 41, after becoming the first
major black designer to be recognised in an industry often criticised for its
lack of diversity.

“Thank you Virgil for your bravery and talent, which disrupted and allowed
so many people to be seen and heard. You held open the door, we’ll never
forget you,” South African designer Thebe Magugu, the first African winner of
the LVMH prize in 2019, wrote on Instagram.

Abloh’s partnership with Kanye West took him from Chicago’s skate and DJ
culture to the heights of the fashion world, first with his own red-hot label
Off-White, and then into the luxury industry in Paris.

His cancer diagnosis came just a year after he was appointed as head of
menswear for Louis Vuitton, becoming the first black person to take an
artistic director role at a top French fashion house.

Though born in the United States, Abloh has never forgotten his Ghanaian
roots: in January 2021, the designer brought Kente, a traditional fabric worn
in Ghana during major ceremonies, to the catwalks of Louis Vuitton.

“It is a huge loss for world fashion, all the more shocking because it was
unexpected,” said Cameroonian designer Imane Ayissi, who in 2020 joined the
closed circle of fashion houses during haute couture week in Paris.

“He remains a model for part of the population by proving that it is
possible to creatively and successfully manage one of the very top luxury
houses, whatever one’s origin and one’s skin colour.”

African streetwear

Nigerian designer Bubu Ogisi told AFP that as many Africans in the diaspora
are taken away from their culture while growing up, fashion was one of the
ways Abloh used to pay tribute.

Abloh also had a strong influence on streetwear brands in Africa, said
Ogisi, director of the Iamisigo brand, whose creations showcase fabrics and
techniques from the continent.

“A lot of friends who have street brands in Nigeria and in Ghana have taken
references from Off-White,” he said, referring to Abloh’s luxury streetwear

“Gone too soon, thanks for supporting African skaters,” trendy Nigerian
skate clothing brand Wafflesncream posted on Instagram on Monday.

A fan of hip-hop and urban culture, Abloh helped finance a skatepark in
Ghana’s capital Accra.

He had also worked with UNICEF to promote education and entrepreneurship in
the West African country.

Throughout his career, the designer strove for more inclusiveness in the
fashion industry.

In 2017, he confided during a conference at Harvard University that he
found it difficult to see himself as a designer as designers did not look like

His career give hope to many black creators, in the West and on the African

“A few black people in the world have risen above and really pioneered a
shapeshifting idea that anyone can be anything and Virgil has been that guy
from day one,” said Adedayo Laketu, a young Nigerian designer who founded the
couture brand Pith Africa.

“I want to do a billion more and go harder cause he has shown and told me
it’s possible.”(AFP)


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