Virgil passed away on the 28th of November after a brief battle with cardiac angiosarcoma—A rare form of cancer, aged 41. He was a multi-hyphenated creative—A fashion designer, architect, DJ, concept artist, musician, furniture designer, amongst other things—He was the Da Vinci of his generation. His repertoire in the creative arts is stacked, however, he was best known for his roles as the Off-White founder and Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton.
Virgil was a first-generation American—born in Chicago and raised in nearby Rockford, by Ghanaian parents. He studied civil engineering and received a Master’s degree in architecture. His introduction into the world of fashion was from his mum—A seamstress, who showed him the ropes of the trade. Although he had always pursued his creative interests as a hobby, the mark of the genesis of his professional career was in 2002 when he met creative genius Kanye West. After a few years of working together on fringe projects, the pair interned in Fendi in 2009. In the following year, he assumed the role of creative director in West’s creative agency—Donda.
In 2012, he started his first fashion brand, Pyrex Vision. To make the pieces he sold under this brand name, Virgil would purchase deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts for about $40, print the word “Pyrex”, and the number “23”—in honor of basketball icon Michael Jordan—on them, and sell them for $550 a piece. Pyrex vision was a colossal success and by the next year, he decided to draw the curtains on Pyrex Vision and delve into deeper waters. In 2013, he started his illustrious creative brand Off-white, defining the brand simply as, “the gray area between black and white as the color Off-White.” Off-white is a multi-faceted creative agency but it’s best known for its fashion pieces. The founding of Off-white, and the subsequent success of the brand, solidified him as a force to be reckoned with in the creative space. Since then his ascent has been exponential up until his demise.
Virgil’s impact on the fashion and design world cannot be understated. He has a cult following and was generally regarded as the designer of the future. He had an uncanny ability to bring a modern, ‘street’ punch to dated designs.
“I am all about championing this new era of designers becoming the new rock stars,”
He was looked up to by creative people from all walks of life—Architects, Fashion designers, musicians, cinematographers, White, Asians, Black, …
But the purpose of this piece is to celebrate what he meant to black people.
As a black person with a knack for the creative arts—particularly areas like fashion, concept design, and architecture (or being a multi-hyphenated creative—a Da Vinci type of artist), there are not many people you can look up to. These are spaces that are dominated by a white, upper class to middle class demographic. No matter how skillful you are in these fields or how much you believe in yourself, doubts as to whether you can make it to the top begin to creep in after a while—It’s hard to believe, or imagine yourself in these spaces because you don’t see anyone with the colour of your skin, from where you are from, operating at that level.
“We were a generation that was interested in fashion and wasn’t supposed to be there. We saw this as our chance to participate and make current culture. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were bringing more excitement than the industry was.” -Virgil.
He demonstrated that those stereotypes could be broken, that black people can perform at the highest level in these areas. He was a symbol to every black creative gunning to reach the zenith of their fields.
Virgil was always in touch with his black/ African heritage and did a lot of direct good for his people — Setting up scholarships for people of Black, African-American, or African descent, collaborating with African designers, donating to African charities, the list goes on. However, the greatest thing he did for black creatives all over the globe was giving them hope, giving them the ability to see themselves as worthy of operating at the highest level as a creative, giving them hope of entering spaces that have long seemed to be shut off to people like them.
A black man as the artistic director of the world’s biggest fashion house? Unheard of, unbelievable!
I remember watching Virgil host his collection for Louis Vuitton in the 2019 summer edition of Paris Fashion Week. He received a standing ovation from the audience. I remember seeing him and Kanye in tears, hugging each other in disbelief of how far they had come. As a black man they’re a few events I have felt connected to like that. I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, an appreciation of the struggle, and a fresh dose of inspiration. That moment is framed in my mind forever.
Highlights like this of Abloh live in the heads of millions of black creatives globally. Virgil is an icon, a hero, a beacon of hope, and he’ll live forever.
An Icon, an Inspiration, a beacon of hope and light to black creatives around the world.
Rest In Peace Virgil Abloh