Virgil Abloh: Trailblazing designer who merged streetwear with high fashion

Virgil Abloh, who died of cancer at the age of 41, was an American fashion designer whose styles drew audiences for everything from clothing and footwear to music and furniture.

Three years ago, Louis Vuitton appointed the streetwear guru as the artistic director of its men’s collection. When his first show that year for the French fashion house, in the gardens of the Palais Royal, in Paris, presented the spring / summer 2019 collection on a rainbow-colored runway, Abloh invited hundreds of students, acknowledging the power they had. an online era to make or break a brand.

Next to them were stars like Rihanna, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian to witness an exciting showcase: tie-dye looks, neon multi-pocket vests, all-white minimalist dresses, an aluminum-looking poncho and Wizard of Oz– themed sweatshirts.

That same year, Abloh designed Hailey Baldwin’s off-the-shoulder lace dress for her secret wedding to Justin Bieber with the words “‘TIL DEATH DO US PART” in capital letters on the long train.

Abloh first made a splash by having his t-shirt designs printed in a Chicago store and sending them to producer rapper West, who commissioned him, as art director, to come up with covers for his albums.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) originally featured a George Condo painting of a man astride a bed by an armless naked woman, resembling a phoenix as part of the design.

West claimed it was a deliberate ploy to ban hip-hop LP to ensure maximum publicity. When Walmart refused to stock it, the image on the front was replaced by a dancer holding a glass of wine, another of the artist’s five options.

Abloh at Paris Fashion Week in June 2020


For Look at the throne (2011), which saw West collaborate with Jay-Z, Abloh chose Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci to design the gold foil cover. This resulted in Abloh being nominated for a Grammy for Best Recording Package.

He also collaborated with West on tour sets and merchandising, and was behind album covers for other artists such as Kid Cudi, ASAP Rocky, Lil Uzi Vert, Octavian, Westside Gunn and Pop Smoke.

In 2012, Abloh founded his company, Pyrex Vision, with the aim of representing youth culture, buying unsold Ralph Lauren clothing for $ 40 (£ 30), screen printing on it and selling items for over $ 550.

She described the business as an artistic experiment and closed it a year later when she launched her Milan-based fashion house Off-White. Her attire, for both men and women, featured the unmistakable black and white stripes seen on hoodies and trainers worn by pop stars Rita Ora and Rihanna.

The designer with Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid and Karlie Kloss during the finale of the Off-White show in Paris in 2019


Abloh also lent his eye for excess to furniture. One collection, Gray Area, included tables with leather cushions and Carrara marble tops and iron grid chairs.

Off-White’s reach was astounding. Levi, Jimmy Choo and Dr Martens have been many brands to collaborate with the designer, all eager to bring Abloh’s talent into their products.

In 2016, he reinvented 10 of Nike’s most famous sneakers, such as the Air Max 90 and Air Presto. Two years later, a black ballerina-style dress, bomber jacket and sneakers labeled “Queen of Queens” formed the kit he designed for tennis star Serena Williams at the US Open.

Following his move to Louis Vuitton, Abloh’s partnership with Ikea saw British customers queuing overnight at its Wembley branch in 2019. It included a chair with a doorstop attached to one leg, as well as rugs with the words “KEEP OFF” and, on the red ones, “BLUE”.

Kanye West and Abloh at the Louis Vuitton Menswear S / S 2019 Fashion Show


Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1980 to Ghanaian immigrants, Eunice, seamstress, and Nee Abloh, manager of a paint company. She learned sewing from her mother and attended Boylan Catholic High School.

Abloh holds a BS in Engineering from the University of Wisconsin. It was while studying for a masters degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology that he began designing T-shirts.

Having landed a job at the Italian fashion house Fendi, he was an intern at its Rome office alongside Kanye West, who later appointed him creative director of Donda, his creative content company.

Across the West, Abloh met Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and they exhibited together in exhibitions in the United States and Japan, with an emphasis on the synthesis of cultures and blurring the distinction between high and low.

Their America Too exhibition at London’s Gagosian Gallery in 2018 included a metallic floral sculpture with Murakami’s character Kaikai Kiki at the top and Abloh’s crossed arrows at the base.

In the same year, when Abloh switched to Louis Vuitton, flagship of the LVMH conglomerate, he sold Off-White to Farfetch for £ 556 million. He was given more creative responsibilities across the LVMH brand in early 2021.

Abloh is left with his wife, Shannon (nee Sundberg), the childhood sweetheart he married in 2009, their daughter, Lowe, and son, Gray.

Virgil Abloh, designer, born on 30 September 1980, died on 28 November 2021

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