What a life Virgil Abloh lived.
Originally from Illinois, the American of Ghanaian descent left an indelible mark in the fashion industry, pop culture and the art world before his death from cardiac angiosarcoma on November 28.
From intensive work with Kanye West in the late 2000s to molding the street-style scene of SoHo in New York with the Pyrex Vision and Been Trill projects; establish Off-White; countless collaborations; shake up the world night scene with numerous DJ sets; art exhibitions; literature, and picking up men’s clothing from Louis Vuitton, it’s hard to sum up the scope of Abloh’s work in just a few highlights. Having popularized the title “multi-cut”, to condense his work would do a disservice to his influence on musical presentation, fashion and design. But what is evident is that the quotes – his signature – will be forever remembered as his mark on the world.
Born in Rockford, Ill., Abloh received a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Although he was an architect by training, his career has deeper roots in the skate, music, streetwear and blogging scenes.
Abloh told GQ he started DJing at the age of 17, introduced skate brands like Alien Workshop, Santa Cruz and Droors as his favorite brands, and got a first glimpse of the convergence of the skate and streetwear through New York streetwear brand Alife. While in college, he worked on clothing with Chicago music producer Jay Boogie and Custom Kings, and contributed to Chicago’s blog The Brilliance.
He met Kanye West’s musical director John Monopoly and his cousin Don C, both of whom were looking for designers to work with West in the future. Abloh told NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago in 2020 that he skipped final college thesis presentations to meet West during an autograph signing. In 2007, West hired Abloh and they briefly worked together on West’s first fashion project, Pastelle.
From there, he interned at Fendi with West in 2009, a journey that was immortalized in Abloh’s Tommy Ton street photo pictured with West, Don C, Taz Arnold, Fonzworth Bentley and Chris Julian. He was officially named West’s Creative Director.
Also in 2009, he opened the RSVP Gallery boutique in Chicago with Marc Moran and Don C in Wicker Park, offering luxury and contemporary fashion and streetwear brands such as Chanel, Comme des Garçons and Bape; showcasing work by Takashi Murakami and Kaws, who designed the cover art for West’s “Graduation” and “808s and Heartbreak” albums, respectively, and hosted events featuring rappers close to the team, including Pharrell Williams and NERD, Kid Cudi and Lupe Fiasco, among others.
The RSVP gallery is a pivotal moment in Abloh’s first entry into the limelight, but a true demonstration of his visions began with West and Jay-Z’s “Watch the Throne” tour in 2011, for which he designed the scene with artist Es Devlin. The West crew chronicled the behind-the-scenes moments of the tour and an episode titled “The Band” is devoted to Abloh and the musicians on the tour, including Mike Dean, with whom he shares a laugh about the breakup. hundreds of bulbs during rehearsal because of the bass.
While West was the face of the convergence of haute couture, hip-hop and art, Abloh was the maestro, bringing big ideas and visions to life – like the mountain scene for the ‘Yeezus’ tour of West in 2013 notably in New York, through his collective Been Trill DJ with designers Heron Preston, Matthew Williams, Justin Saunders of JJJJound and footballer Florencia Galarza.
In 2012, he launched Pyrex Vision, a streetwear brand produced in part from unused Ralph Lauren products and clothing that spurred the takeover of streetwear fashion. Brands like Supreme and Stüssy had exhibited classic skate and streetwear in New York before, but Pyrex, Hood by Air and Abloh’s second company Been Trill came up with raised streetwear that paired well with, say, the Givenchy t-shirts from the time of Riccardo Tisci.
After Pyrex, Abloh took his next step in fashion with Off-White. He launched the brand in 2013 and established his hallmarks, such as zippers, quotation marks, oblique stripes and barricade tape, which are said to exist in the brand’s collaborations. A Pyrex shirt, hoodie, or shorts at one point were highly sought after pieces for their mystery and exclusivity, and Off-White picked up where this project left off. Soon the streets were full of denim shirts and oblique striped leather jackets and the word “White” on the shoulders.
Off-White was a finalist for the LVMH Prize in 2015, alongside Arthur Arbesser; Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant de Coperni; Faustine Steinmetz; Craig Green; Demna Gvasalia, from Vetements at the time; and the winners Marta Marques and Paulo Almeida of Marques’ Almeida and Simon Porte Jacquemus, respectively.
Although the brand did not win the award that went to Marques’ Almeida or the special award won by Jacquemus, Off-White has signed countless collaborations with Levi’s on the company’s Made & Crafted line; with Nike first on their series “The Ten” which included reinterpretations of 10 of the sportswear company’s sneakers, and with Ikea on furniture for a collection called Markerad which featured products like bags, clocks and rugs with words like “Sculpture”, “Temporary” and “Stay the Course”.
Other collaborations include Jimmy Choo, Moncler, Tsum, Byredo, Babylon LA, Ginori, Vilebrequin, Champion, Timberland, Dr. Martens and Umbro, among others. Rimowa chairman Alexandre Arnault has publicly stated that Abloh is keen to collaborate with the company under his former ownership and contacted again after the company was acquired by LVMH.
He has teamed up with Ssense retailers on sportswear; Sunglass Hut on a collection of sunglasses; an exclusive capsule for Browns, and Le Bon Marché in a café. Outside of fashion, he worked with Evian on water bottles under his name for the company’s Soma collection; with Mercedes-Benz on the Geländewagen project for the G-class automobile and with artist Takashi Murakami on the works of art.
Murakami would also give a space in his Tokyo art gallery, Kaikai Kiki, to Abloh to showcase his work. The two have teamed up on many works and held a series of exhibitions together in 2018 at the Gagosian Galleries in the United States and Europe.
In 2018, he was part of the meeting heard ‘across the world’. Louis Vuitton has appointed the artistic director of Abloh for men, making the multi-hyphen the first black American to hold the position at LVMH. Its first runway show also marked a new direction for the fashion house which drew more into skate and street culture, which began with its collaboration with Supreme. Under his tenure, Louis Vuitton introduced a “creative conversation” with Nigo named LV2, as well as the house’s first skate shoe and signed their first skater, Lucien Clarke.
In 2019, he held his first solo exhibition, “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech”, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, retracing 20 years of his creations, inspirations and collaborations. The exhibit would travel separately from Louis Vuitton’s ephemeral itinerant men’s boutiques that landed in the United States for the first time in Chicago.
Throughout his creation of Off-White and his entry into Louis Vuitton, he continued to work in music. He was nominated for a Grammy for album wrapping for “Watch the Throne”, and he went on to do album wrapping for West and rappers under the West GOOD Music label, including Pusha T (Abloh creative directed Pusha T’s 2013 album “My Name Is My Name”), Kid Cudi, Big Sean and 2 Chainz.
Outside of GOOD, he designed covers for A $ AP Rocky, Lil Uzi Vert, Westside Gunn and the late rapper Pop Smoke, whom he invited to Louis Vuitton and Off-White shows and also shot a music video with for song “Shake the Room”. with the Migos rapper Quavo after the Louis Vuitton fashion show.
Abloh also announced a nightlife residency at Wynn Las Vegas the same year, but in September 2019 decided to take a hiatus. He told Vogue: “I was just tired, so I went to the doctor,” he said. “In the end, everything is fine, but the doctor said to me ‘This pace that you’ve kind of pushed your body – to go all those miles, do all these different projects – is not good for your health. . ‘”
Abloh’s return to the public eye began with the Fall 2020 Off-White show named Tornado Warning which opened with a performance by tap dancer Cartier Williams in an “I Support Young Black Businesses” t-shirt.
In July 2020, he launched the shirts and hoodies to kick off the quarterly fundraising project with the proceeds going to Chicago CRED, an organization created to reduce gun violence with which he had partnered since 2017.
Also that month, he raffled off the Off-White x Air Jordan IV “Sail” sneakers at the Chicago store Notre with Aleta Clarke to raise $ 187,000 for his non-profit organization HugsNoSlugs which aims to eliminate gun violence and poverty.
Abloh has raised $ 1 million with Off-White, Louis Vuitton, Farfetch, Evian and New Guards Group for its “post-modern” scholarship fund created to provide scholarships to black students in an effort to foster education. equity and inclusion within the fashion industry.
Abloh launched a series called Free Game, a section of his website where he explains how to build a brand, and joined the Fashion Scholarship Fund board in 2020 to help the organization partner with HBCU. “My heart and my vision is for the kid who might not be on his way to college,” he said in October 2020. “I watch the 14-year-old from a downtown area who is interested in fashion and wants to create. “
He told WWD for the nomination announcement: “Everyone is asking, ‘How can the fashion industry respond to the civil rights movement now and the global pandemic?’ And it usually comes down to very practical things. My January show started off with the “I Support Young Black Businesses” shirt and that was my main message, but it wasn’t like the fashion media was doing it. But after George Floyd there is an awakening and the posts from my comrades like Kerby Jean-Raymond, Grace Wales Bonner, Martine Rose, Shayne Oliver, Telfar Clemens, No Sesso, the list can be long of amazing designers who don’t get the same media coverage or platform as other creators. I’m extremely lucky and privileged to be able to do what I do on stage that I do, but that doesn’t come without my work existing in this particular case scenario, that you are visualizing it.
Shortly before Abloh’s death, LVMH acquired a 60% stake in Off-White and gave him a larger role in the company to work on their wines and spirits and hospitality categories.
One of his last appearances was in November at the Fashion Trust Arabia Prize 2021 at the National Museum of Qatar, where he presented the Entrepreneur of the Year award to Amina Muaddi.
Abloh has racked up a number of quotes over the years, and once said that “Fashion is one of the best vehicles for merging music, art, architecture, design, typography – it’s is a canvas wide enough, or a sandbox big enough, to touch all the different things I’m in.
He has proven time and time again to be true. What a life he lived.
With contributions from Jenna Greene and Luis Campuzano.