The world of high fashion and haute couture melded with pop culture and street design through the work of creative visionary Virgil Abloh.
His death at 41 years old from a hidden illness has rocked both, with prominent design houses and stars of the music industry left in mourning.
Abloh was fashion’s highest profile black designer, he was the creative mind behind Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection and the founder and creator behind street wear brand Off-White.
LVMH said he had been battling cancer in private for years.
“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” LVMH’s billionaire boss Bernard Arnault said in a statement.
Abloh, a US national who also worked as a DJ and visual artist, founded Off-White in 2012 and had been men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton since March 2018.
Some of his most prominent brand collaborations include Kanye West, Nike, Jordan, Ikea, Evian, Moncler and Mercedes-Benz.
He has been a close associate and collaborator of West since 2009, when they met during an internship at Fendi.
Abloh was creative director for Kanye’s latest album, Donda, among other artistic collaborations.
West dedicated his Sunday Service Choir to the memory of his friend.
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Fendi also posted a tribute to Instagram.
“Rest in peace dear Virgil. I will forever cherish our roman days. My thoughts are with your family”, Silvia Venturini Fendi said.
Dior men artistic director and Fendi women artistic director Kim Jones said Abloh was “one of the kindest people you could ever meet.”
“Many great times spent traveling the world and hanging out in hotel rooms… going through Japanese magazines and laughing and talking about ideas… my thoughts to Shannon and the children”, he said.
Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois, to parents who were immigrants from Ghana. His father managed a paint factory, and his mother was a seamstress.
Abloh went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his undergraduate degree in civil engineering, and then did a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In July this year, LVMH expanded his role, giving him a mandate to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond fashion.
He expanded into furniture design in 2017 and last year, into vehicle design with Mercedes-Benz. In May, Abloh was the designer for the poet Amanda Gorman’s appearance on the cover of Vogue.
CNN reports that Abloh was named among Time magazine’s “100 most influential people” in 2018. In 2019, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presented an exhibition of the work of “genre-bending artist and designer”.
“Abloh pioneers a practice that cuts across media and connects visual artists, musicians, graphic designers, fashion designers, and architects,” the museum wrote.
A statement on Virgil Abloh’s Instagram page said his family were devastated at the loss.
“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” the statement read.
“He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.
“Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered.”
He has been memorialised by high profile figures, with social media flooded with tributes from the likes of Donatella Versace, Gucci, Drake, Gigi Hadid, BTS and Idris Elba.
Rapper Pharrell Williams, another friend, was among the first to offer a public tribute.
“My heart is broken, Virgil you were a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius, your work as a human and your work as a spiritual being will live forever, Sending love and light to your wife, children, family and day ones, you’re with the Master now, shine,” he tweeted.
Justin Bieber’s wife Hailey joined a chorus of praise and heartache over Abloh’s death, sharing how he had designed her wedding dress and “completely changed the way [she] looked at street style and fashion.”
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Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon, who was his high school girlfriend. They have two children, Lowe and Grey.