The announcement, made by LVMH in the early hours of Monday morning Singapore time, stated how the 41-year-old designer succumbed to a rare and aggressive cancer called cardiac angiosarcoma for the past two years. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, angiosarcomas are tumours that form in the heart.
The Chicago-born Abloh who was trained in civil engineering in university and would, later on, receive a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology was what LVMH boss Bernard Arnault described as “not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”
Virgil Abloh was never formally trained in fashion but went on to be one of fashion industry’s heavyweight creatives who melded hype culture with luxury.
Indeed, Abloh went from being a fresh graduate to becoming Ye’s (or more accurately Kanye West back then) longtime creative director and a globetrotting deejay for over a decade, before starting cult label Off-White which captured the imagination of a young generation of streetwear fiends.
His designs broke conventional wisdom of what luxury is thanks to his inter-disciplinary approach and were always anchored by him questioning what fashion means to the individual beyond the hype.
His thirst for culture – both consumerist and artistic – grounded everything he did and spoke to his fans who are weaned on social media. Cue how he encouraged Off-White Stans to post invites to his shows on the Gram.
In a 2016 interview with FEMALE during his visit to launch an Off-White store at 268 Orchard, he said: “I get a lot of ideas from friends and the things that I surround myself with; things that are pushing culture – be it an after-party, art gallery or a friend’s fashion exhibition. (Instead of finding inspiration in specific cities), I find it in people and what they do; the restaurants and clubs that they go to.”
His appointment at Louis Vuitton in 2018 was perhaps the greatest achievement of his career and heralded a new era in the industry that had been up to then dominated by white designers.
When he took over from Kim Jones as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, Abloh effectively became the most powerful Black designer in the game.
Virgil Abloh (left) with his predecessor Kim Jones (right) at his debut show of Louis Vuitton menswear Spring/Summer 2019 collection.
He used his position as a bridge between the Black community and opportunity. He invited 3,000 students to his debut show at the maison – a symbolic gesture to show how anyone can achieve their dreams. After the show, he posted an image of him taking a bow on the catwalk that was captioned with the inspiring words: “You can do it too.”
Abloh also created the Post-Modern Scholarship Fund for Black students worth US$1million, of which a portion of the funds came from his own pocket. He also worked to garner funds to back Black-owned businesses while mentoring Black designers such as Samuel Ross.
In a major power move, LVMH bought a 60 per cent stake in Off-White and expanded his role at the fashion conglomerate by giving Abloh authority to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in sectors beyond fashion. Of his appointment, Abloh told The New York Times: “I’m getting a seat at the table.”
Up to his death, Abloh was still appearing in public and was in Doha earlier in November to open his first museum exhibition in the Middle East for Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech. He is survived by his wife Shannon, his children Lowe, 8, and Grey, 5, and his parents Nee and Eunice and sister Edwina.
Ahead, we compile some of the tributes that have poured in from his peers in the industry.