On Sunday 28 November, the fashion world lost a very important figure. Virgil Abloh, at age 41, died of a rare form of cancer. He was diagnosed in 2019 and, while going through treatment, continued to helm one of the most influential fashion houses and prove his worth as a designer and creative. After the passing of such a maverick, I think we must take a look at his life through the creative world and take inspiration in his not so traditional rise to the title of a fashion great.

“Off-White can be credited as massively popularising streetwear and menswear”

Before his death, Virgil Abloh was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear ready-to-wear line and had founded the high-end streetwear brand Off-White. Usually, to get to such a position and to have created a fashion house, one must have worked in an atelier, apprenticed with some of the finest dressmakers of the time and slowly worked up the ranks. These days, such designers often start at Central Saint Martin’s college in the University of Arts London or some equally prestigious fashion school before being scouted by a sponsor looking for the next talent. However, Virgil did not. Abloh had an interesting rise to success, starting in Chicago, where he was born in 1980.

Born to Ghanaian parents, Abloh’s mother was a seamstress and taught Abloh also to appreciate the tricks of the trade. However, it wasn’t until much later that Abloh went back to the fashion world. In his 20s, Virgil studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, working with vastly different materials than the kind scrunched and pleated for dresses and garments alike.

It wasn’t until after his degree that he immersed himself in the fashion world, interning at Fendi in the same class as Kanye West. From this came a collaborative relationship between the two and West appointed Abloh as the creative director for his agency, Donda. In 2012 came Abloh’s first company, Pyrex Vision, in which he bought deadstock Ralph Lauren clothing, screen printed designs on them and sold them on. However, the company soon came to an end as Abloh considered it an artistic experiment in which he could embrace youth culture rather than a business enterprise.

“With the added power of an atelier of top artisans who create in their everyday what most don’t see in a lifetime, Abloh’s designs kept getting more and more ingenious”

Although already reaching success early on, it wasn’t until 2013 when most people started noting Abloh’s vision with Off-White. Named aptly due to “the grey area between black and white as the colour off-white”, not fitting neatly into any fashion boxes but finding a suitable grey area in-between, the brand encompassed streetwear, luxury, art, music, and travel. Off-White can be credited as massively popularising streetwear and menswear, immediately recognisable from the quotation marks, barricade tape and zip-ties that adorn the garments. It transcended categories, collaborating with IKEA to design furniture and tote bags and artist Jenny Holzer with a line emphasizing cultural integration and immigration. However, always at the forefront was youth culture and modern ideas, as it grew a cult following of teenagers and young adults.

With all this in Abloh’s wake, all that was left to do in the fashion world was to helm a major French fashion house. Abloh achieved this feat in 2018 as he was named artistic director of the menswear line for Louis Vuitton, the first designer of African descent to have done so. In this position, with the added power of an atelier of top artisans who create in their everyday what most don’t see in a lifetime, Abloh’s designs kept getting more and more ingenious. Some of his top work (in my opinion), was his use of harnesses blurring typically masculine menswear in his spring-summer 2019 show and clever introduction of the kente cloth with the Louis Vuitton monogram into his fall-winter 2021 collection.


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However, like many designers, Abloh was not without controversy. Especially with his rise from Off-White, a fashion brand that’s not really a fashion brand, many were concerned he would change Louis Vuitton for the worse. His principle that a new design can be created by changing an old one by only three percent also lead to many of his designs found all over the highly followed fashion Instagram, Diet Prada, for allegations of plagiarism.

Undoubtedly, though, Abloh has vastly changed menswear and given the everyday man an escape into the shades of grey which he aspired to in Off-White. With Abloh’s last ever collection released just days after his passing, titled ‘Virgil Was Here’, Abloh had insisted it would be held posthumously and so his legacy goes on beyond the grave. The show was playful and optimistic, filled with colour and symbolism as it was set on the Miami coast with the sun going down on a looming red hot air balloon: a true tribute to the artistic director. In the final moments, one last voiceover played from the designer: “There’s no limit, and life is so short. You can’t waste even a day subscribing to what someone thinks you can do versus knowing what you can do.”