American designer Virgil Abloh, a leading fashion manager, hailed as the generation Karl Lagerfeld, has died after a private battle with cancer. He was 41.
Abloh’s death was announced Sunday by luxury group LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) and the Off-White brand, the brand Abloh founded. Abloh was Louis Vuitton’s menswear designer.
“We are all shocked by this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH, said in a statement.
A statement from Abloh’s family on the designer’s Instagram account said for the past two years that Abloh was battling heart angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer in which a tumor develops in the heart.
“He chose to endure his struggle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing several challenging treatments, all the while managing several significant institutions spanning fashion, art and culture,” the statement read.
In 2018, Abloh became the first black artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton in the history of the French design house. A first-generation Ghanaian American whose seamstress mother taught him to sew, Abloh had no formal fashion education but had a degree in engineering and a master’s degree in architecture.
Abloh, who grew up in Rockford, Ill., Outside of Chicago, was often referred to as a Renaissance man in the fashion world. He shines as a DJ. But in a short time, he emerged as one of fashion’s most announced designers. Abloh called himself “a maker”. He was named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in 2018.
In 2009, Abloh met Kanye West – now called Ye – while working in a screen printing shop. After he and Ye worked together at the LVMH brand Fendi, Abloh Yes was the creative director. Abloh was the art director of the 2011 Ye-Jay-Z album See the throne, for which Abloh was nominated for a Grammy.
Abloh’s work with West served as a plan for future cross-border collaborations that married high and low. With Nike, he partnered with his Off-White label for a series of insanity-inducing sneakers remixed with a variety of styles and Helvetica fonts. Abloh also designed furniture for IKEA, refillable bottles for Evian and Big Mac cartons for McDonald’s. His work has been exhibited at the Louvre, Gagosian and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Abloh’s death amazed the entertainment world. Actor Riz Ahmed said on Twitter that Abloh “stretched the culture and changed the game.” Fashion designer Jeff Staple wrote, “You taught us all how to dream.” Pharrell Williams called Abloh “a friendly, generous, thoughtful creative genius.”
Abloh took what he called a “three percent approach” to fashion – that a new design could be created by modifying an original by three percent. Critics said Abloh was more ingenious at repackaging than creating something new. But Abloh’s style was also self-conscious – quotes were a trademark of him – and high-minded.
“Streetwear in my mind is associated with Duchamp,” Abloh told the New Yorker in 2019, referring to French artist and author Marcel Duchamp, who died in 1968. “It’s this idea of readymade. I’m talking about the Lower East Side, New “York. York. It’s like hip hop. It’s sampling. I take James Brown, I chop it up, I make a new song.”
Stars lined up to be dressed by Abloh. Beyoncé, Michael B. Jordan, Kim Kardashian West, Timothée Chalamet and Serena Williams have worn his clothes.
Abloh’s Off-White label, in which LVMH acquired a majority stake earlier this year, made him a cool judge. But his employment with Louis Vuitton brought Abloh to the top of an industry he was once a tough outsider in – and made him one of the most powerful black leaders in a historically closed fashion world.
As Abloh prepared for his men’s debut show in 2018, he told GQ: “I now have a platform to change the industry.”
“We are designers so we can start a trend, we can highlight problems, we can get a lot of people to focus on something, or we can get a lot of people to focus on ourselves,” Abloh said. “I’m not interested in [the latter]. I’m interested in using my platform as one of a very small group of African American men to design a house, to show people in a poetic way. “
Abloh leaves behind his wife, Shannon Abloh, and his children, Lowe and Gray.
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