In today’s fashion sphere, there are few who have commanded the level of widespread influence that Virgil Abloh gained since the 2012 launch of his label Off-White.
After multiple fashion and art collaborations with Kanye West (after the two Chicago natives interned at Fendi in 2009), Abloh embarked on numerous projects, partnerships and explorations on the intersections of fashion, art, design and architecture that made the designer one of the most prolific creatives of the decade. It also resulted in the designer’s groundbreaking appointment as menswear artistic director of Louis Vuitton in 2018, a move that crowned him the first Black creative director in the role and one of the top Black designers in the entire fashion industry. It also led to LVMH’s further investment in Abloh earlier this year.
With the recent news of the designer’s death following a years-long battle with cancer, a look back at Abloh’s decade or so in fashion serves to further illustrate the enormous body of work that the creative put forth in such a short amount of time.
Here, a non-exhaustive look back at six ways in which Virgil Abloh changed fashion forever.
Abloh ushered in “streetwear” to mainstream and luxury fashion
After a stint with West that included everything from opening a menswear boutique in Chicago (along with Don C) to art directing the music artist’s collaborative “Watch The Throne” album with Jay-Z, Abloh went on to found brands such as Pyrex Vision, a fashion upstart that experimented with screen printing and the use of deadstock garments (most famously, a curation of collectible vintage Ralph Lauren pieces) as well as the #Been #Trill collective alongside Heron Preston and Matthew Williams. Both upstarts were a pathway for Abloh’s Off-White label, which he founded in 2012 with the Farfetch-backed New Guards Group. The label, with its stripes-and-arrows logo, would usher in a streetwear frenzy that would lead to its definition (and acceptance) in the upper echelons of fashion as graphically driven designs incorporated into casual garments made with luxury materials. In August, LVMH acquired a 60% share of the brand.
His collaborations were limitless
There was no collaboration too niche or outside the box for Abloh, who partnered with everyone from Jimmy Choo to Nike with within fashion and Evian to Ikea in the commercial product world. The collab that put him squarely on the footwear map was, of course, “The Ten,” a partnership with Nike in 2017 in which Abloh reinterpreted 10 of the footwear giant’s most important styles and silhouettes.
Everyone wanted to go to his shows — his appeal went far beyond fashion
With the streetwear frenzy at full speed, Abloh’s Off-White runway shows were the event of Paris Fashion Week, including and especially for those outside of the industry event. At the fall ’18 show, March 2018 in Paris, fans swarmed the entryway to the venue as show goers with tickets struggled to get through the doors. The showing reflected Abloh’s continued connection with young people and his insistence on the influence of youth culture as a constant point of reference in design.
His Louis Vuitton debut made fashion history
After being named artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton in March of 2018, Abloh debuted the brand’s spring ’19 menswear collection in June 2018 to great fanfare, with supporters and collaborators such as Kanye West, Rihanna, Travis Scott, the Kardashian family and Bella Hadid in the front row and friends Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti and Dev Hynes walking the colorful runway, which had a “Color Theory” theme that nodded to the diversity of the moment. Subsequent collections further explored the Black experience through fashion and music, with the fall ’21 show featuring musician Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), poet Saul Williams and the audio narrative of James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village.”
Abloh took fashion’s music connection to the next level
A longtime DJ, the designer balanced his fashion projects with and unrelenting touring schedule that took him around the world. Abloh’s musical adjacency to collaborators such as Kanye West and friendships with music artists such as Drake, Kid Cudi, Rihanna and more brought another level of synergy to the two industries. Earlier this year, Abloh founded “Imaginary Radio c/o Virgil Abloh,” a two-hour internet radio program on Worldwide FM.
He founded both a scholarship and mentorship program aimed at bringing up young Black designers
Amid the exploding social justice movement of 2020, Abloh raised more than $1 million for scholarships aimed for Black fashion students, and also introduced his own mentorship program, “Free Game,” which provides step-by-step instruction for young fashion entrepreneurs to start their own brand.