Remembering Abloh: the man who brought the street to the runway

Virgil Abloh reimagined the profile of a
fashion designer, merging streetwear, music and high fashion, and shattering
glass ceilings as the first black creative director at Louis Vuitton.

Abloh died on Sunday at the age of 41, with few aware that he had been
battling a rare form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, since 2019.

His partnership with Kanye West catapulted Abloh from the skate and DJ
culture of Chicago to the heights of the fashion world, first with his own
red-hot label Off-White, and then to the apex of the traditional 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.

That did not stop him maintaining a gruelling schedule as he remoulded the
label in his image, merging streetwear, social media and celebrity — while
also moonlighting as a DJ and a furniture designer for IKEA.

“Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” he was often
quoted as saying, as he pulled in the influences from his youth to breathe new
life into the catwalk.

Accidental designer

Abloh, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, studied architecture at the Illinois
Institute of Technology, but his career took a surprising turn after his
design ideas caught the attention of West, who hired him as his creative
director in 2007.

The pair were determined to revamp the world of high fashion, and even took
on an internship together at Fendi in Rome in 2009 in their bid to learn the

Abloh started his first clothing label, Pyrex Vision, in 2012.

“I didn’t make a conscious decision one day that I wanted to be a
designer,” he told GQ. “I made Pyrex, which in my mind was more like an art
piece… and I needed clothing to support this idea.”

Pyrex quickly morphed into Off-White, which took the fashion world by storm
by by mixing urban style with high-end tailoring.

Its trademark diagonal stripes were combined with ironic messaging — often
putting fashion terms in quotation marks on his clothing.

It all added to Abloh’s youth appeal, as did his early embrace of Instagram
(he had 6.5 million followers at the time of his passing).

His 2017 collaboration with Nike became “the Official Sneaker of
Celebrities Everywhere” in the words of GQ, and many more tie-ups followed,
running the gamut from Jimmy Choo and Moncler to even McDonald’s.

That sealed the deal.

With the old fashion houses desperate to attract younger buyers, Abloh was
the obvious candidate to replace Kim Jones — himself a pioneer of luxury
streetwear — when he left Louis Vuitton.


The reactions to his death reflect the fact that Abloh seemed to have only
just arrived and had much more to offer.

“We are all shocked by this terrible news,” said Bernard Arnault, chief
executive of LVMH, the group that owns Louis Vuitton and had taken a majority
stake in Off-White this year, in a statement.

“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, but also a man with a
beautiful soul and great wisdom,” he added.

Abloh looked set to offer a powerful voice for change in the fashion world,
vowing “to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater
equity and inclusion in the industries we serve”.

His first show for Louis Vuitton in March 2018 with models from around the
world strutting down a rainbow runway.

Abloh faced some backlash in 2020 when he voiced anger over the rioting
that accompanied protests over the murder of George Floyd in the US.

But that did little to dent his status as a ground-breaking figure.

“RIP VIRGIL ABLOH. No one will forget the impact you had. God bless you my
friend,” tweeted the French football star Kylian Mbappe.

American singer Pharrell Williams wrote on Instagram: “Virgil you were a
kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius your work as a human and your work
as a spiritual being will live forever.”

Actor Riz Ahmed tweeted: “Gone too soon but your legacy lives on. Stretched
culture and changed the game. Thank you for all you did to support so many &
how you pushed us to reimagine what’s possible.”(AFP)


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