Virgil Abloh, fashion designer, stands alongside his brand Off-White for the triumphant rise of streetwear in luxury fashion. His appointment as the creative director of menswear for Louis Vuitton was his crowning achievement in fashion design. This appointment was more than just a career move for Abloh. It also set a benchmark for many, namely that a US-born son of Ghanaian immigrants could reach the top of one the most prestigious luxury fashion houses in the world.
Abloh was conscious of his role as representative and used it to help other artists. It’s not surprising that many people across the globe mourn the passing of Abloh, a generous and tireless creative who died far too early.
“Virgil Abloh wasn’t just a fashion designer. He was an unstoppable trailblazer for the next generation of creative minds in fashion and art. We are grateful to you for being our mentors. We felt heard and seen. I felt seen. You changed my life and the lives so many other people,” Yung Nnelg, an Amsterdam rapper, wrote on Instagram Sunday.
How did Abloh see it? “I follow my own rules and logic. I don’t fear. I am focused on progress. (…) We are creating a global society, beyond elitism or territoriality as can happen within subcultures,” said the fashion designer in an interview with L’Uomo Vogue this past year.
By launching collaborations like Daily Paper and adding young brands such as Post Archive Faction, he helped to bring attention to talent.
After the 2018 Louis Vuitton Show, Virgil Abloh stated, “You can do that too,” encouraging the Post Archive Faction, to follow their lead. We wouldn’t exist today without him. The label posted the message on Instagram: “And so are many other around the globe.”
Abloh has been sharing tips through his free online course “Free Game” since last year. Many YouTube videos also show how he mentored brands such as Physical Novel and St-Die. In 2020, he launched the “Post-Modern Scholarship Fund for Creatives from African-American Backgrounds,” which he funded with one million dollars.
The genius behind viral collabs
Streetwear is a common theme when you think about Off-White and Virgil Abloh. This was where Abloh showed his versatility in his approach. Abloh designed Nike sneakers that were deconstructed and branded them with his orange label. He created watches and rugs for Ikea with the words “temporary” on them. All in quotation marks, with the ironic statements that would be his signature alongside the Arrow logo.
Abloh explored the boundaries of art and design through these conceptual stylistic references and devices. It was therefore not difficult to create a capsule collection in 2019 with the Louvre Museum, Paris. In which Virgil Abloh paid homage to Leonardo Da Vinci, the universal genius and Italian painter, it was possible.
“I was fascinated from an early age (…) by Da Vinci. I was also interested in his artworks but also in the influence he had upon many other disciplines: science, technology, and architecture… He symbolizes the Renaissance,” Virgil Abloh said to us in a statement by the Louvre.
Abloh’s work doesn’t end with collaborations and Off-White Home’s interior line. He also designed SUVs and an “functional work of arts” for Mercedes, including a soundtrack to Braun’s 100th anniversary. He never satisfied with adding his label to his designs. He always dug deep into the archives.
Abloh: “I imagine things, and I create them.”
Before he founded Off-White, he laid the foundation for his own omnichannelism. He learned to sew from his mother. In 2006, he earned a bachelor’s degree as a civil engineer, then a master’s of architecture. Kanye West, a US rapper, was his friend and he led him to Paris Fashion Week 2009 and an internship at Fendi in Italy.
Off-White was his multi-platform creative venture. He combined ideas from streetwear and luxury with music and travel. The brand is also known as “the gray zone between black and white”, as Off-White.
Off-White’s collaboration with Rimowa was not the only way to incorporate the theme of travel into its design language. The streetwear brand made a yellow belt that resembled a tightening strap and it became an essential piece. Later, it was part of other pieces such as handbags.
“I think of things, and I make them,” Virgil Abloh stated that he tries to see a complete work and not just a medium when presenting his furniture designs at Art Basel Miami. It is important to remember that Off-White was also inspired by a piece of art called “PyrexVision” by Abloh.
Off-White is most famous for its streetwear pieces, such as hoodies or sneakers. Abloh created pieces that are not necessarily streetwear-appropriate, particularly in womenswear. He combined streetwear with high fashion at Louis Vuitton. He combined gaudy suits with traditional Ghanaian Kente fabric, a slew of logos, and modern prints such as clouds to create SS22. He brought a fresh breath to the French fashion house, and made the brand more accessible to a younger audience.
The fashion shows of Louis Vuitton and Off-White featured innovative conceptual backdrops that were part of the designer’s creative process. Digital elements and the physical show were blurred for Off-White’s SS19 collection – even before there was the Corona pandemic. At Louis Vuitton, Abloh’s ideas took on greater dimensions. He held a block party in Paris for the SS20 Louis Vuitton collection. There were balloon animals, bouncy castles and many guests who enjoyed the show from cafes and on benches. The fashion house’s SS21 shows were a bigger spectacle. Abloh traveled with his animals on a traveling show that was not seasonally scheduled. It began in Shanghai. Between branded containers, giant inflatable objects and creatures floated down a runway.
One of the most memorable shows for the designer was the Louis Vuitton Men’s SS19 presentation. He sent models down a rainbow-colored catwalk. But it’s not the show that will be remembered, but the finale. As is the norm for designers, Abloh appears on the catwalk and meets his friend Kanye West. Abloh closes his first appearance at the fashion house by giving Kanye West an emotional hug. This is a statement for both him and the next generation.
Like many kids today, I began this surreal mission with a blank T shirt, a screen-printed idea, and a dream. In a post on Instagram, Abloh said that he made each seat from a graphic Tshirt in Louis Vuitton’s early days after learning how to use the photocopier at the office.
DJ Virgil Abloh
The fashion designer is also a part of the music scene, and not only through friendships with Kanye West. He is also an artist director for Jay-Z and West’s album “Watch the Throne.” He is also a DJ. He was a performer at events such as the Tom Ford SS19 Aftershow Party in New York, Jimmy Choo 20th Anniversary Event, and the G-Star flagship event opening with Pharrell. He also turned the turntables at Festivals like Lollapalooza 2018, Coachella 2019, and Melt 2019, on the Ferropolis grounds, Grafenhainichen.
Abloh was a DJ at the aftershow party when Heron Preston, his friend and fashion designer presented his collection “For You, The World” at Milan’s Antonioli store in 2017. This obituary’s author was there as well. He remembers wearing an off-white belt as a clasp to a crop top. Abloh saw the look, and smiled when he entered the shop. This is how he will be remembered.