The wind was knocked out of the fashion world with the passing of Virgil Abloh this past Sunday. Although trained as an architect, Abloh's interest lies in fashion. He'd learned how to sew from his mother, who was a seamstress; during days studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology for his Master of Architecture, Abloh designed t-shirts and contributed to a fashion blog called The Brilliance.
Abloh would later intern at Fendi in 2009. It was the same time that, his friend, Kanye West, was also interning at the same company and this would be the start of an artistic partnership between the two. In 2010, West appointed Abloh as the creative director of his creative agency, Donda and a year later, Abloh would be the artistic director for West and Jay-Z's album, Watch the Throne.
As an exercise in branding, Abloh launched Pyrex Vision, where he bought deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts for USD40 apiece, screenprinted his own designs on them and sold them for prices upward of USD550. The brand was shuttered but Abloh would launch Off-White in 2013. Based in Milan, the label is the juxtaposition of Abloh's many ideas of streetwear, high fashion and art.
The highlight of Abloh's career would be his induction as artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton. His appointment marked the first-ever instance of a Black person helming the creative direction of a big fashion house. But more than that, it signalled a switch in how established luxury fashion houses view 'luxury'. His first showing for the storied maison for spring/summer 2019 exemplified that shift in perspective—a truly diverse cast with infusions of Abloh's cultural and streetwear backgrounds. And in just a couple of years, Abloh's imprint grew stronger at Louis Vuitton, making the maison relevant again, especially to a much younger audience.
Collaboration was always a prevailing theme in Abloh's endeavour. "The whole point of collaboration is that you give and take from each other, and that's how you create things that are totally new," Abloh said. He believed that originality can also come from the union of ideas. He has worked with Futura, Nike, Undercover, IKEA, the list goes on. Abloh even worked with MIDNIGHT STUDIOS' Shane Gonzalez, after the latter DMed via Twitter asking if there was any opportunity for him to help out in any Off-White or Donda projects. Gonzalez recounts that after that message, Abloh was in LA and showed up at Gonzalez's apartment alone. Gonzalez showed Abloh some 'fantasy samples' of what a collaboration between Off-White and MIDNIGHT STUDIOS would look like. That fateful meeting yielded a showcase of their team-up.
His existence was brief but his contributions to the Black community and the art and fashion world is immeasurable.
Our condolences to Abloh's family and his friends on his passing.