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Virgil Abloh, artistic director for Louis Vuitton and Off-White founder, dies of cancer at 41

Virgil Abloh, the acclaimed menswear designer for Louis Vuitton and founder and CEO of Off-White, died Sunday of cancer, according to a post from his verified Instagram account. He was 41.

“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend. He is survived by his loving wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh, and numerous dear friends and colleagues,” the post read.

“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma. 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.”

Virgil Abloh pictured outside an event in Paris in July this year. Credit: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Abloh was a true multi-hyphenate — first, and foremost a fashion designer, who before making history as Louis Vuitton’s first Black artistic director, founded the cult streetwear label Off-White.

At Louis Vuitton, he brought in a younger demographic, with menswear collections that blurred the lines between high fashion and streetwear, as well as pushed artistic boundaries and challenged gender norms. A sparkly “embroidered bib” he designed, for example, became an instant talking point when it was worn by Timothée Chalamet to the Golden Globes in 2019. Other versions were donned by Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman.

Famous for cross-collaborations, one of Abloh’s greatest legacies was his contribution to the world of footwear — setting the standard for innovative sneakers, in edition after edition of Off-White x Nike designs.

Kanye West and Virgil Abloh pose after the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring-Summer 2019 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 21, 2018 in Paris, France.

Kanye West and Virgil Abloh pose after the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring-Summer 2019 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 21, 2018 in Paris, France. Credit: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/French Select/Getty Images

He was also big in the world of music, and as a prolific DJ, played at music venues around the world. As a longstanding collaborator of Kanye West, now known as Ye, he worked as a creative director for the rapper’s design agency Donda, and designed some of Ye’s album covers. As an artist and furniture designer, he collaborated with the likes of Mercedes Benz on an art concept car and IKEA on a coveted range aimed at people moving into their first homes.

Tributes poured in overnight for the late designer, who was one of fashion’s most powerful Black men, in an industry that notoriously lacks diversity. Harlem couturier Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, spoke to the point in an Instagram post, writing “Virgil’s life was a testament to how much Black Lives Matter by showing what black lives are capable of.

“His march took him to the top of luxury fashion. Virgil started out as a foot soldier but died a general.”

British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful called him “a giant among men,” on Instagram, writing that Abloh always worked “to open the door to art and fashion for future generations, so that that they — unlike himself, would grow up in a creative world with people to mirror themselves in.”

Virgil Abloh speaking on his design philosophy at Design Miami in 2016

Models Gigi Hadid and Hailey Bieber also took to social media, with the latter writing that Abloh was “a once in a generation creative mind,” who altered the way she looked at street style and fashion. Accompanying the Instagram post was a photo of Bieber with Abloh, who custom-designed her lace wedding dress in 2019.

Poet Amanda Gorman, who wore a vibrant garment designed by Abloh for her Vogue cover in May, wrote that she was “privileged” to have met him and to have worn “such a beautiful piece designed in honor of your grandmother.

“I knew then I was experiencing the honor of wearing a designer whose work transcends both past and present.”

The luxury group LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, tweeted about his death and, in a statement, quoted LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault: “We are all shocked after this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”

LVMH had accquired a majority stake in Off-White this July in an agreement that all sides hoped would begin a new chapter.

“I’m also honored to use this partnership to deepen my longstanding commitment to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion in the industries we serve,” Abloh said at the time. “This is an incredible new platform to take the disruption we’ve achieved together to a whole new level.”

Abloh, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, was born in 1980 in Rockford, Illinois. He earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and completed a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology; a foundation that would later influence his broader practice.

“My career trajectory started in design in a more traditional multidisciplinary sense, within architecture and engineering before I (started in) fashion,” he told CNN in a 2020 interview.

“I look at my work as metaphoric — what can exist in different disciplines of design, how you can form a new design language, and engage a younger audience, across icons, using some different techniques and investigations.”

Abloh was named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presented an exhibition of the work of “genre-bending artist and designer” in 2019.
Before his untimely death, he was working on plans for a Louis Vuitton fashion show in Miami, Florida, to coincide with the opening of a new men’s store in the city. A presentation of his Spring-Summer 2022 collection will go ahead at 5.30pm ET on Tuesday November 30, according to an update posted from Louis Vuitton’s official Twitter account.



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