A Tribute to a Fallen Fashion Icon

Virgil Abloh with friend and business partner, Kanye West

Virgil Abloh was an esteemed, groundbreaking, glass-ceiling-shattering, revolutionary individual. As a black designer, he rose to unprecedented power in the luxury industry through his work with Louis Vuitton along with his own brand: Off-White. Abloh passed away on November 28, 2021 after a two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer of the heart. Despite only being 41, he changed the narrative of fashion forever.

Virgil Abloh came from humble beginnings. Born in Rockford, Illinois on September 30, 1980, Virgil was the son of two Ghanaian immigrants: Nee and Eunice Abloh. As a child, he was obsessed with skateboarding and hip-hop. Despite a propensity towards fashion, Virgil’s education began on a slightly less creative path. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he studied civil engineering and later received his master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Architecture may have taught him some tricks of design, but he credits his mother teaching him the basics of fashion. She was a seamstress and showed young Virgil the basics of her trade.

At only 22, Virgil met Kanye West, and his legacy in the fashion industry burgeoned. At the time, Kanye and his creative team started working on a sneaker collaboration with French luxury brand Louis Vuitton. As a member of the team, Virgil headed to Paris for the city’s fashion week and became the next big thing to watch out for that season.

Virgil is perhaps best known for his brand, Off-White. Off-White transcended the world of streetwear. Virgil was adamant, “This isn’t a streetwear brand. This isn’t a contemporary brand. This is designer, just the same way that X, Y, Z are designer, where you say their name and it carries this whole esteem and emotion to it.” The brand prides itself on beautiful and ironic works of art. Dresses are labeled, “Little Black Dress”; “Shoelace” is printed on a shoelace of $700 shoes; a scarf has “scarf” written on it in quotation marks.

For Virgil, clothes are not only garments meant to be worn, but are “fungible totems of identity that sit at the nexus of art, music, politics and philosophy.” Fashion is a material representation of personality.
Fame, wealth and serving as artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear were not enough for Abloh. “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” and he believed “in the power of art to inspire future generations”. To back his claims, he established the “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund. This fund, created in light of the social justice protests in 2020, raised $1 million to encourage black students to join the fashion industry.

Virgil Abloh tore down boundaries between streetwear and luxury, demolished social norms and influenced and redesigned the fashion industry.

-Annie Cui ’22

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