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Virgil Abloh, fashion designer, 1980-2021

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When Virgil Abloh wanted to break into luxury fashion at age 29, he already had enough leverage to launch his own label. Instead, he told FT this year, he went to Rome and started an internship at Fendi, to learn “how fashion brands really work, versus how I thought they did. they worked “.

This display of humility, curiosity and open-mindedness was characteristic of Abloh, who died Sunday at the age of 41, after a two-year private battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Creative director of Louis Vuitton for men since 2018 and founder of premium brand Off-White, Abloh was considered the most powerful black man in fashion. He collaborated widely and with remarkable success across industries and mediums, designing shoes for Nike and furniture for Ikea, earning him comparisons with Andy Warhol, Karl Lagerfeld and Marcel Duchamp, the artist, writer. and chess player whom he often cited as an influence.

Friends and colleagues have described him as “positive” and “easy going,” with an unmatched work ethic and an uncanny ability to define what’s cool. Where other designers saw rules and limitations, he saw possibilities. “He’s not bogged down by draconian codes, barriers and rules,” said Tremaine Emory, music and nightlife producer and friend of Abloh.

He nurtured and promoted other talents, including designers Heron Preston and Matthew Williams, who is now the Creative Director of Givenchy, another LVMH brand.

Abloh was promoted this year to a larger role at LVMH, with the promise of launching new LVMH brands and partnering with existing brands.

“We are all shocked by this terrible news,” said LVMH Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault in a statement announcing his death on Sunday. “Virgil was not only a brilliant designer and a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”

“Virgil was not only a friend, a great collaborator, a creative genius, a visionary and a disruptor, but also one of the best cultural communicators of our time,” said Louis Vuitton Managing Director Michael Burke, who hired Abloh, in an emailed statement. “He paved the way for future generations. As a dedicated supporter of his community through his charities and passions, he was an eternal optimist who believed anything was possible. “

A first-generation American born to Ghanaian parents, Abloh rose to prominence in the early 2000s as a DJ and creative partner to Kanye West, netting a Grammy nomination for artistic direction from West and Jay Z. Look at the throne album in 2011.

An architect by training, he launched streetwear brand Pyrex Vision in late 2012, quickly selling a line of screen-printed illustrations on unused Ralph Lauren flannels for hundreds of dollars apiece. Although it closed less than a year later, it paved the way for the launch of the more successful Off-White, which was acquired by LVMH this year.

Alongside labels such as Vetements and Y / Project, Off-White has helped break the barrier between mass streetwear and high fashion, mixing deconstructed streetwear basics such as hoodies and t-shirts with bespoke pieces and dresses inspired by Diana, Princess of Wales, sometimes in one garment.

Off-White by Virgil Abloh, which he wanted to be “a luxury version, a designer version, of what I see in the street”, was bought by LVMH this year © Archivio Mezzanotti / Shutterstock

His props were conceptual works of art, often scrawled with phrases that re-thought their essential function – there were handbags labeled “Personal Property” and “Sculpture,” and status sneakers emblazoned with the words “For walking.” “.

He maintained an unusually direct dialogue with fans via Instagram and Twitter, developing an online community around his brands that others have since tried to emulate.

Abloh was not a traditionally trained fashion designer, and his appointment to Louis Vuitton sparked skepticism within LVMH and throughout the industry. Critics sometimes said that he hadn’t introduced anything original into fashion.

Abloh considered himself more of a “mirror”. With Off-White, he told me in an interview in 2016, he wanted to create “a luxury version, a designer version, of what I see in the street”.

“I try to make art on a commercial scale. That’s what Off-White is, it’s rooted in art and architecture but in the mass, like Canal Street, so people buy it.

Over the past two years, Abloh has spent most of his time in Rockford, Ill., Where he grew up, with his wife Shannon, whom he met in high school, and their two young children. He has also expanded his philanthropic efforts by establishing the Virgil Abloh ‘Postmodern’ Scholarship Fund in 2020 for fashion students of Black, African American or African descent.

“Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” his family said in a statement. Sunday Instagram post.

Until the day of his death, Abloh was working on his latest collection of menswear for Louis Vuitton, which premieres in Miami on Tuesday.

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