Just hours ago, we received the heartbreaking news that Virgil Abloh, famed American fashion designer and creative icon, passed away at the age of 41. According to a press release put out by his family, Abloh had been privately battling a rare, aggressive form of cancer – cardiac angiosarcoma – for over two years, “undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”
The news has devastated the world and triggered an outpouring of condolences, including those celebrities like Drake, Pharrell Williams, Marc Jacobs, Daniel Arsham and Takashi Murakami, just to name a few. The hidden nature of his illness – combined with the fact that just weeks ago, Abloh was in Qatar hosting cultural events and a museum exhibit dedicated to his works – has left fans in total shock.
In recognition of his impact and legacy, join us on a journey through some of Virgil Abloh’s most iconic moments below.
It would be an understatement to call Virgil Abloh one of the pre-eminent cultural tastemakers of the 21st century. Perhaps best known as the creative director of Louis Vuitton and the founder of luxury label Off-White, Abloh was a true multidisciplinary: an entrepreneur, DJ, industrial designer and philosopher.
His deconstructed style and highly industrial aesthetic – one of the most deceptively simple yet recognisable design languages ever devised – has manifested in clothing, accessories, cars, planes furniture, artwork, music, food and drinks.
The first African-American to be artistic director at a French luxury fashion house, Abloh arguably invented modern streetwear and has been single-handedly responsible for sparking a renewed interest in design among a whole generation of young people. His passing is truly a loss.
As his family has related, Abloh often said that “everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations. In that spirit, we’d like to share some of Abloh’s most iconic and inspiring moments to celebrate a life well-lived.
2012: Abloh founds Pyrex Vision
After completing an internship with Italian luxury house Fendi and working as rapper/cultural heavyweight Kanye West’s creative right-hand man, Abloh founded his first clothing brand, Pyrex Vision, in 2012. Graphic-heavy and influenced by street culture, Pyrex Vision was the public’s first introduction to Abloh’s iconic signature aesthetic.
Notoriously, Abloh (allegedly) purchased deadstock Ralph Lauren flannels for $40 each, screen printed them with ‘Pyrex 23’ and sold them for $550 each. True or not, it’s a moment that speaks to Abloh’s uncanny understanding of modern fashion, ‘hype’ culture and streetwear.
Abloh told Complex back in 2013 that Pyrex Vision was “a representation of the importance of youth culture. The now. It’s basically my manifesto on my upbringing. Putting my idea in a unique way so that kids can participate. I just wanna start a brand that inspires and is geared towards youth. The internet generation, these kids that you see here today. It is all for them.”
2013: Off-White makes its debut
In 2013, Abloh rebranded Pyrex Vision as Off-White, which is now one of the most in-demand brands on the planet. A cultural tour de force, Off-White is treated with the same sort of reverence as names like Supreme, Gucci, BAPE, Prada, Rolex or Louis Vuitton (who Abloh would eventually end up at). It’s an inextricable part of the modern fashion pantheon.
Blurring the lines between luxury fashion and streetwear, Off-White’s signature use of Helvetica font, stylised quotation marks, zip ties and barricade tape has spawned countless imitators. There are now Off-White boutiques across the globe and in the world’s most famous department stores, from Selfridges to Sydney.
A crucial part of Off-White’s success has been Abloh’s collaborative spirit, with the label having penned dozens of high-profile collaborations with big-name brands and fellow designers such as Rimowa, IKEA, Moncler, Champion, Byredo and Nike, just to name a few. On that note…
2017: Nike ‘The Ten’ collaboration
In 2017, Abloh kicked off his most successful and recognisable collaboration: that between Off-White and sportswear giant Nike. The result was ‘The Ten’, a reimagining of ten of the most iconic sneakers of the 20th century.
Deconstructed and visually distinct, ‘The Ten’ was immediately successful, with shoes selling out immediately… And resold for more than ten times the original price, in some cases. It was the epitome of hype culture: ‘The Ten’ catapulted Abloh into the public consciousness and sparked a renewed interest in limited-edition sneakers.
The collaboration between Nike and Abloh quickly moved beyond those ten sneakers, with Abloh adding activewear, additional sneaker models and a variety of different colourways to the mix over the years. While Abloh would go on to produce his own Off-White sneakers (as well as revisit sportswear during his time at Louis Vuitton), ‘The Ten’ remains his best-known work and perhaps the most iconic sneaker capsule of all time.
2018: Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton show
In 2018, Abloh became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear line – the first person of African descent to lead the brand’s menswear line, as well as one of the few Black designers at the helm of a major French fashion house.
While his tenure at the Maison has many high points to choose from – such as the brand penning its first athlete endorsement in skateboarder Lucien Clarke or the multimedia blitz that was his Zoooom with Friends AR concept – Abloh’s first show for LV, a sumptuous affair at the Palais-Royal gardens in Paris, stands out as a particular triumph and is easily one of the most iconic fashion shows of the last decade, if not the 21st century.
Star-studded both on and off the runway, it was a potent celebration of Black excellence and a changing of the guard in haute couture. Abloh’s close connections to the music world were a crucial part of the show: not only did rappers like Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti and A$AP Nast walk the runway as models, but BADBADNOTGOOD performed live, playing Kanye covers. The event cemented Abloh’s status as one of the most dynamic creatives on the planet.
2020: Mercedes-Benz collaboration
2020 saw Abloh collaborate with renowned German luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz on ‘Project Geländewagen’: a unique art/concept car based on the marque’s famous G-Series SUV, also known as the G-Wagen. True to form, Abloh applied his signature deconstructed aesthetic to the boxy 4×4, turning it into a sort of weathered race car.
At the time, it was a rather controversial collaboration. Esquire Middle East called it “a hot mess”, and HYPEBEAST posed the pointed rhetorical question: “who is it for?” But as Ted Gushue, founder of Type7, adroitly put it at the time, “what it is ‘for’ is to act as a Trojan horse to get an entire generation of kids who live in cities who never ever ever think about cars or car design interested and engaged.” In that sense, it was genius.
While all these moments (and many more) are special, Abloh’s G-Wagen really epitomises the man’s influence and character. Regardless of what people thought about his artistic process, Abloh always knew how to spark a conversation. He had a unique and singular vision that few other designers before or perhaps since have ever had.
We’d say his 17-year-old self would be very proud.