On November 28, 2021, the world lost a fashion icon.
Virgil Abloh, a name synonymous with fashion innovation and limitless creativity, has forever altered the landscape of style and design. His legacy continues to inspire, so join us as we remember the remarkable journey of a man who redefined fashion and design.
The Dream Architect
Born on September 30th, 1980, in Rockford, Illinois, Virgil Abloh embarked on a path to fashion that was far from typical. He originally pursued a career in architecture, obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree with a major in civil engineering, and then going on to complete his Master of Architecture.
Virgil Abloh in late 2004.
Although he always interested in fashion (he had worked at a print shop throughout his education), the catalyst for him entering the field was in fact a building, designed by Rem Koolhaas, who also designed for Prada, he had seen it under construction on his university campus and this inspired him to pursue fashion.
These foundations in structure and precision became key elements in his unique approach to design.
Graduate Meets Dropout
In 2009, both Kanye and Virgil interned together for Fendi at their Rome office. This chance encounter marked the inception of a creative revolution, as the two visionaries began to share ideas to redefine what was possible in design. Virgil's first work for Kanye in a creative capacity was selecting George Condo to paint the album covers for "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy".
Kanye and Virgil in 2009.
Soon after, Kanye appointed Virgil as the creative director of DONDA, his creative agency, as well as the art director of his then upcoming album "Watch The Throne" with Jay-Z.
This project led to Virgil being nominated for the Best Recording Package Award at the 54th Annual Grammys in 2012. During this time, Virgil started the short-lived brand Pyrex Vision. He also created the cover for "WZRD", the self-titled debut album of Kid Cudi's band.
The Grey Area Between Black and White
In 2013, Virgil still based in Milan, Italy, launched Off-White, the brand that would epitomize his innovative spirit. Pulling inspiration from Ben Kelly's stripe design seen at The Haçienda, he created the now iconic stripe logo that has become synonymous with Off-White. Critics and investors would receive the explanation that the brand defines "the grey area between black and white as the colour off-white". His first collection (F/W 2014) drew heavy influence from the Farnsworth House, a floating glass-house located southwest of Chicago, while also including references to Bauhaus and the works of Baroque artist Caravaggio.
The first Off-White collection. (F/W 2014)
This collection marked the beginning of Off-White's meteoric rise in popularity. As Virgil would continue to work tirelessly to achieve his vision for his brand, he created the classic cover for Kanye's 2013 album "Yeezus", as well as conceptualizing the music video starring Rihanna, for A$AP Rocky's song "Fashion Killa", also released in 2013.
The next year, Virgil would launch Off-White's womenswear line with a spectacular showcase at Paris Fashion Week. This would earn him another nomination, this time for the LVMH award, which he would ironically lose. Later that year, Off-White opened its first store in Hong Kong, quickly expanding to Tokyo, Japan.
In October of 2016, Nike and Virgil would have their first meeting regarding a potential collaboration between the two creative powerhouses. At was at this meeting, wielding an X-ACTO knife and a permanent marker, that Virgil deconstructed (and promptly reconstructed) a pair of triple-black Air Force 1 Lows, serving as the prototype for what was to come. Continuing this method, Virgil would complete the full collection called "The Ten", named for the ten different Nike shoes he reconstructed, with the most iconic being the Jordan 1 Retro High Off-White Chicago. This collection was a resounding success, creating ten classic shoes that continue to be sought after to this day.
Nike x Off-White "The Ten"
With its distinctive quotation marks and signature zip ties, Off-White revolutionized streetwear. It quickly became more than just clothing; it was a manifesto, a daring declaration of an audacious vision. Off-White was now a global phenomenon, breaking down the barriers between streetwear and luxury fashion.
The Multifaceted Creative
While Virgil is most famous for his work in fashion, he wasn't content with limiting his creativity. Most notably, he took a vested interest in DJing. He first experimented with it in the early nineties, while still in high school, often spinning at house parties. This would eventually progress to him creating soundtracks for each of his runway shows, as well as opening for artists Travis Scott, and Tyler, The Creator.
However, his connections to music don't end there. In 2017, he created the album art for Lil Uzi Vert's debut studio album "Luv Is Rage 2", also directing the music video for the song "XO TOUR Llif3". In 2020, he created the Caravaggio-based covers for Westside Gunn's album "Pray For Paris" as well as its 2023 sequel "And Then You Pray For Me".
Virgil's multidisciplinary creative work showcased that creativity knows no bounds and can transcend the confines of a single industry. He inspired far beyond the world of fashion, demonstrating the vast possibilities of creative exploration.
"Virgil Dropped Some Louis, I Want Everything He Made"
By 2018, Off-White had surpassed Gucci to become the world's highest ranked fashion label, due in part to collaborations with numerous huge brands such as Nike, Levi's, and Champion. This feat did not go unnoticed, and on March 25th, 2018, Virgil Abloh was named as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear line. This was more than a career milestone; it was a groundbreaking moment in the fashion industry, as he became one of the first people of African descent to lead a French fashion house. He would go onto display his first collection with Louis Vuitton in Paris at Men's Fashion Week in 2018, tapping artists like Playboi Carti, Steve Lacy, and Kid Cudi to model his pieces for the show.
Playboi Carti for Louis Vuitton at 2018 Men's Fashion Week in Paris.
Virgil broke barriers and redefined the luxury fashion landscape, infusing it with streetwear influences. This earned him a reputation around the fashion industry as an innovator, and he soon began working on very high-profile collaborations, including creating an original outfit for Serena Williams to wear during the 2018 US Open, designing furniture such as rugs and chairs for IKEA, crafting a custom Off-White wedding gown and veil for Hailey Bieber, and creating a transparent suitcase for luggage brand Rimowa.
Even after his untimely passing, Virgil Abloh's legacy endures, continuing to influence contemporary fashion and design. While he was alive, he took great care and importance in being an accessible mentor to up and coming creatives, sharing his knowledge at every opportunity and lending a hand to pull others up to his level, rather than looking down upon them as others in his position had done previously. In 2020, he started the "Virgil Abloh Post-Modern Scholarship Award" which raised $1M to help Black students. He also worked with Nike to redesign and renovate the Boys and Girls Club in East Garfield Park, Chicago.
Emerging designers look to his transformative journey for inspiration, discovering in him a timeless symbol of what can be achieved when passion and vision converge. His creative journey is a testament to the idea that innovation and creativity are limitless and that they can transcend time, leaving an indelible mark on the world.
Virgil's creative journey and enduring legacy serve as a testament to the boundless nature of creativity. His wisdom was unmatched, (even predicting the decline of streetwear in favour of vintage clothing) and he proved that passion and vision know no boundaries. Today, and forever, we celebrate a visionary who defied conventions, broke barriers, and redefined the fashion landscape. His legacy remains a timeless source of inspiration, a reminder to dream bigger and continue pushing the limits of creativity in the world.
Long Live Virgil Abloh.