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The Fashion Designers, Moguls and Creatives We Lost in 2021: Notable Deaths of the Year

Though 2021 has been a strong year for the fashion industry, it’s also been one of tremendous loss.

Legendary creative talents Alber Elbaz and Virgil Abloh both died this year — huge losses in the world of fashion design and creativity. Albaz, who died from COVID-19, was credited with reviving Lanvin throughout his 2001-2015 tenure, and recent launched his new fashion label AZ Factory this year. Abloh, the game-changing founder of Off-White and artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, died last month from complications with cancer. Abloh was notably the first Black designer at the helm of a French fashion house.

Visionary executive George Malkemus, the devoted business partner to Manolo Blahnik and Sarah Jessica Parker, died this September after battling cancer. Legendary retailers Fred Segal and Dawn Mello also passed this year, as well as renowned fashion journalist Richard Buckley, one half of one of fashion’s power couples with Tom Ford.

Below, we look back on the fashion figures who died in 2021.

Virgil Abloh

virgil abloh, virgil abloh death, off-white, virgil abloh, people who died in 2021
Virgil Abloh at the finale of his Louis Vuitton show in June 2018.
CREDIT: WWD

Virgil Abloh, 41, passed from the rare cancer cardiac angiosarcoma after battling it for two years. He was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections since 2018, and had led his own streetwear brand Off-White since 2012.

George Malkemus

Manolo Blahnik ceo George Malkemus, people who died in 2021
Former Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus has died at 67.
CREDIT: John Aquino

At 67, George Malkemus passed away from cancer in September. The footwear executive is credited with bringing Manolo Blahnik to the mainstream shoe world, placing his shoes in runway collections and expanding its retail presence. He also led the SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker label, launching the brand with its namesake “Sex and the City” actress in 2013.

Alber Elbaz

Alber Elbaz, people who died in 2021
Alber Elbaz
CREDIT: Stephane Feugere/WWD

Alber Elbaz, the famed designer credited for reviving the French fashion house of Lanvin in the early 2000s and mid-2010s, passed from COVID-19 in April. He was 59. Most recently, Elbaz launched his own AZ Factory label this January, which notably merged traditional fashion practices with technology.

Fred Segal

Los Angeles retailer Fred Segal passed from a stroke in February at the age of 87. Segal launched his famed namesake store in Los Angeles in 1961, which is credited for launching a range of emerging brands before they became household names. Notable labels in his portfolio included Kate Spade, Juicy Couture, Trina Turk and Jeremy Scott.

Richard Buckley

Richard Buckley, left, and Geoffrey Beene lifetime achievement award recipient Tom Ford pose backstage at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall on Monday, June 2, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/AP)
Richard Buckley, left, with Tom Ford at the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall on Monday, June 2, 2014, in New York.
CREDIT: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Fashion journalist Richard Buckley died in September at the age of 72. The partner of designer Tom Ford, Buckley is remembered for being the European editor for Fairchild Publications’ Daily News Record, as well as past roles as Scene‘s editor-in-chief and WWD‘s fashion editor.

Joan Didion

Joan Didion Has Passed Away
Joan Didion attends Talk Magazine Launch Party at Liberty Island in New York City on August 2, 1999.
CREDIT: Henry McGee/MediaPunch/IPx

Joan Didion, the author, journalist, and style icon died in December at 87.Didion was best known for chronicling the 1960s counterculture in her groundbreaking book of essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” She also won the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction for her best-selling memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking.” In 2012, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama, who described her as one of the “sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture.” She even took a stab at modeling, starring in fashion advertisements for Gap in 1989 and for Celine in 2015.

Grace Mirabella

Grace Mirabella, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, is shown in New York, May 20, 1971. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
Grace Mirabella, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, is shown in New York, May 20, 1971.
CREDIT: AP

The iconic former American Vogue editor-in-chief passed away in December at the age of 91. She helmed the glossy throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s after taking over from former boss Diana Vreeland. Described as giving the magazine a pragmatist approach, the jet-set and the aristocratic tribes in Vogue gradually diminished under Mirabella’s reign. “In an age of Gloria Steinems and Barbra Streisands, they were passé,” Mirabella wrote with characteristic frankness in her autobiography “In and Out of Vogue.” “I didn’t want to showcase women who had no other credit to their names but their names,” she wrote. “I wanted to give Vogue back to real women… I wanted to give Vogue over to women who were journalists, writers, actresses, artists, playwrights, businesswomen.”

Federica Cavenati

16Arlington co-founder Federica Cavenati passed at the age of 28 in October. Cavenati, who died from an undisclosed illness, was known for her colorful and textured designs that graced the likes of Kendall Jenner, Amal Clooney and Chrissy Teigen. She co-led the brand with Marco Capaldo since its launch in 2017.

Joseph Khezrie

Joseph Khezrie, founder of shoe retailer Jimmy Jazz, passed at the age of 90 in June. Khezrie was known for his work ethic and perseverance in the footwear industry, launching Jimmy Jazz’s first store in 1988 and expanding its business to become a retail leader over time.

Harry Brant

Socialite Harry Brant passed at 24 in January from a prescription drug overdose. Brant, the son of model Stephanie Seymour and publisher Peter Brant, notably launched two MAC unisex beauty collections with his older brother, Peter. He was also an aspiring journalist who wrote a column called “The Look” for Interview magazine.

Edward D. Solomon

Famed footwear executive Edward D. Solomon passed at the age of 90 from natural causes in September. Solomon was known for his over 50-plus year career leading brands like Shoe Town and Karl’s Shoes as their CEO.

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