fashion

This is what will Virgil Abloh be remembered for


The fashion designer Virgil Abloh stands with his person and brand
Off-White like no other for the triumph of streetwear in the world of
luxury fashion. The crowning achievement of his fashion career came with
his appointment as creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. But this
appointment meant much more than a career move for Abloh, it set a marker
for many – namely that a son of Ghanaian immigrants in the US could make it
to the top of one of the world’s biggest luxury fashion houses.

Abloh himself was aware of his representative role and used it to
promote other creatives. So it’s no surprise that people around the world
are mourning the loss of a generous all-round creative with an almost
inexhaustible creative drive, who passed away far too soon.

Door opener

Virgil Abloh was more than a fashion designer. He acted as an
inexhaustible trailblazer for the “next generation” of creative minds in
fashion, art and music.

“Thank you for being the mentor we needed as a generation. We felt seen and
heard. I felt seen. You changed my life and the lives of so many others,”
Amsterdam rapper Yung Nnelg wrote on the social network Instagram on Sunday.

And how did Abloh himself see it? “I act according to my own rules, my
own logic, and I’m not afraid. And I focus on progress. (…) We are
creating a global community, beyond elitism and territoriality, as can
happen in subcultures,” the fashion designer said in an interview with
L’Uomo Vogue this year.

He helped bring attention to talent by launching collaborations with
labels like Daily Paper or adding young brands like Post Archive Faction to
Off-White’s store assortment.

“You can do it too,’ Virgil Abloh said after the 2018 Louis Vuitton
show, encouraging the Post Archive Faction to forge their own path.
“Without him, we wouldn’t be here today. And so are many around the world,”
the label wrote on Instagram.

Since last year, Abloh has been giving tips via his freely available
online course “Free Game,” and many YouTube videos show how he has been a
mentor for brands like St-Dié and Physical Novel. He launched the
“Post-Modern” scholarship fund for creatives with African-American
backgrounds in 2020, which he endowed with a million US dollars together
with companies like Louis Vuitton, Farfetch and Evian.

Image: Ikea

The all-around genius behind viral collabs

When you think of Virgil Abloh and Off-White, you can’t help but think
of streetwear and the numerous collaborations. It was here that Abloh’s
versatility was revealed in his approach. He designed deconstructed Nike
sneakers and provided them with his iconic orange label. For furniture
giant Ikea, he created watches with the words “temporary” and rugs with the
“Keep Off”; all in quotation marks and with the over-the-top ironic
statements that would become his trademark alongside the Arrow logo.

Through these conceptual stylistic devices and references, Abloh played
with the boundaries of design and art. So it was not far-fetched to release
a capsule collection with the Louvre Museum in Paris in 2019, in which
Virgil Abloh paid tribute to the Italian painter and universal genius
Leonardo Da Vinci.

Image: Louvre

“I was fascinated by Da Vinci from an early age (…) I was interested not
only in his artworks, but also in the influence he had on many other
disciplines besides art: science, technology, architecture… For me, he
symbolizes everything that made up the Renaissance,” Virgil Abloh told us,
in a statement released by the Louvre.

But it doesn’t stop with collabs and his own interior line Off-White
Home, Abloh also designed SUVs for Mercedes and a “functional work of art”
including a soundtrack for the 100th anniversary of home appliance
manufacturer Braun. In his designs, it’s never enough for him to just add
his label, he always dove deep into the archive.

Virgil Abloh x Braun “functional art”
(2021). Image: Braun / Procter & Gamble

Abloh: “I imagine things and I create them”

He laid the groundwork for his own omnichannelism long before he founded
Off-White. His mother taught him to sew, and he first earned a bachelor’s
degree in civil engineering, followed by a master’s in architecture in
2006. His friendship with US rapper Kanye West led him to Paris Fashion
Week in 2009 and an internship at Italian fashion house Fendi.

He saw his own label Off-White as a multi-platform creative venture,
where he combined ideas from streetwear, luxury, art, music and travel. The
brand also defines itself as “the gray area between black and white, as the
color Off-White.”

The theme of travel was not only implemented at Off-White through
collaborations with suitcase manufacturer Rimowa, but also flowed into the
design language. A yellow belt reminiscent of a tightening strap became an
it-piece for the streetwear brand and later part of other pieces like
handbags.

“I think of things and I make them. I try to think of a whole work, not
a medium,” Virgil Abloh said in an interview with CNN when he presented his
furniture designs at Art Basel Miami. Finally, it should not be forgotten
that Off-White also got its beginnings in a work of art “Pyrex Vision” by
Abloh.

Streetwear pieces like hoodies and sneakers are probably the symbol of
Off-White. However, especially in womenswear, Abloh also created pieces
that don’t necessarily fit the streetwear image. At Louis Vuitton, he
combined streetwear and high fashion with his own roots. For SS22, he
brought gaudy suits, traditional Ghanaian Kente fabric and an overload of
logos and modern prints like clouds into one collection. In doing so, he
brought a breath of fresh air to the French fashion house and made the
brand more tangible to a younger audience.

Unforgettable shows

The sets of Off-White and Louis Vuitton’s fashion shows also featured
groundbreaking conceptual backdrops that fit into the designer’s creative
process. For Off-White’s SS19 collection, digital elements and physical
show blurred together – even before the Corona pandemic. Green screens,
which transported guests into a visual world, met an artificial outdoor
landscape.

Abloh’s concepts took on increasingly larger dimensions at Louis
Vuitton. For the SS20 Louis Vuitton collection, he threw a block party in a
Paris neighborhood with bouncy castles, balloon animals and lots of guests
enjoying the show on park benches and in café settings. Only the fashion
house’s SS21 shows were an even bigger spectacle. For this, Abloh took his
animal friends on a seasonless traveling presentation that kicked off in
Shanghai. Giant inflated objects and creatures floated down the runway
between branded containers.

Louis Vuitton Men’s SS20 | Video: Louis Vuitton

Arguably one of the designer’s most memorable shows was the Louis
Vuitton Men’s SS19 presentation, where he sent models down a rainbow
catwalk. However, it is not necessarily the show itself that we will
remember, but more the finale. As usual for designers: Abloh shows up on
the catwalk, and goes to his friend Kanye West. He closes his debut at the
fashion house with an emotional hug, making a statement for him and the
next generation.

“Like some kids today, I started this surreal mission without ‘fashion
school’, but with a blank T-shirt, a screen-printed idea and a dream. As a
nod to that, on each seat is a graphic T-shirt I made in the early days of
Louis Vuitton after learning how to use the photocopier in the office,”
Abloh wrote in an Instagram post ahead of his LV debut.

Virgil Abloh: “Something in the Water”-Festival (April, 2019)
| Brian Ach /Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP

DJ Virgil Abloh

The fashion designer has also been in the music scene – and not just
through friendships with artists like Kanye West. In addition to art
directing West and Jay-Z’s album “Watch the Throne,” he also takes the
stage as a DJ. He performed at fashion events like the Tom Ford SS19
aftershow party in New York, Jimmy Choo’s 20th anniversary event, and the
G-Star flagship opening event with Pharrell Williams. But he also spun the
turntables at festivals like Lollapalooza 2018, Coachella 2019 or at Melt
(2019) on the Ferropolis grounds in Gräfenhainichen.

When his friend and fashion designer Heron Preston presented his
collection “For you, the world” at Milan retailer Antonioli in 2017, Abloh
DJed at the aftershow party. One of the author:s of this obituary was also
at that event and remembers wearing one of the off-white belts as a clasp
for a crop top. Abloh walked into the store, spotted the look and
complimented it with a smile. That’s how down to earth, approachable and
warm he will be remembered.

This article was written by Ole Spötter and Weixin Zha, translated
and edited to English by Kelly Press.



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