Virgil Abloh, Creative Genius Whose Vision for Fashion Transcended Boundaries and Crossed Into Art, Has Died at 41

The much-loved designer passed away after a quiet battle with cancer.

Virgil Abloh. Photo by Katrina Wittkamp, courtesy MCA Chicago.
Virgil Abloh. Photo by Katrina Wittkamp, courtesy MCA Chicago.

The game changing art, fashion, and design polymath Virgil Abloh has died aged 41. The founder of Off-White and head of menswear for Louis Vuitton passed away on November 28 after a quiet battle with a rare form of cancer.

A leader across multiple fields, Alboh has been credited with transforming the fashion industry, with his high fashion athleisure and streetwear designs setting the tone for the style of a generation.

“Everyday objects, a pair of socks, a T-shirt, can all be made into high fashion using intellect. It’s something that is as impactful as Duchamp saying that a urinal is a fountain,” Abloh told Artnet News during an interview in 2018. “And I think that anything made after that can be seen in a different light. “Culture itself can be looked at in a certain way.”

 

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Abloh is survived by his two young children and his wife Shannon, who posted a tribute to his Instagram account. The statement explained that he was diagnosed with an aggressive and rare cancer called cardiac angiosarcoma two years ago, and that he chose to keep the diagnosis private as he underwent numerous treatments while simultaneously steering several significant institutions spanning fashion, art and culture.

“Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered,” the statement said. “Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design.”

Born in 1980 in Rockford, Illinois, Abloh studied civil engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison before completing a master’s in architecture from Illinois Institute of Technology. His fashion education came from his mother who worked as a seamstress and taught him how to sew and make garments. In July of this year, Abloh was promoted to working across all the brands within Louis Vuitton’s parent company, fashion titan LMVH, as it acquired a 60 percent stake in Off White, making him not only the first Black man to head up a major department at the brand but the most powerful Black executive at the company. 

“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary,” Bernard Arnault, collector and chairman of LVMH said in a statement. “He was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”

Regarded as an inspirational trailblazer, Abloh’s legacy spans all creative disciplines and as news broke of his death, shocked tributes poured in from the worlds of film, fashion, art and design.

 

 

Artist Theaster Gates simply posted a shot of himself, Abloh and Kanye West. West met Abloh aged 22 and recognized his talent early on. They went on the road together and Abloh went on to work at DONDA, West’s incubator, before he founded Off-White—the company that began as a conceptual project and became an international brand which broke down barriers between streetwear and high fashion. More recently, the pair worked together on Ye’s sneaker collaboration at Louis Vuitton.

Hans Ulrich Obrist posted a warm photo of the two of them together and a quote from Abloh, plus a written message from 2017 from the late designer: VIRGIL WAS HERE. Abloh collaborated with designer Ben Kelly in the piece Ruin, which recreated a mythical nightclub at the Store X, 180 The Strand during Frieze 2017, and his acclaimed MCA Chicago exhibition “Figures of Speech” toured to the ICA Boston and the High Museum in Atlanta Georgia. “Figures of Speech” is currently on view at the Fire Station in Qatar through March 31, 2022. In light of Abloh’s unexpected passing, the MCA Chicago has invited the public to share their tributes to the creative powerhouse.


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