Virgil Was Here

The Life & Times of Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh in 2019, photographed by Myles Kalus.

When he was 17 years old, Virgil Abloh sent Nike his own DIY designs for their infamous Air Force 1 sneaker. Two decades later, just prior to his untimely passing from cancer at the age of 41, Abloh was responsible for orchestrating a momentous Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force collaboration. Abloh's meteoric success as a designer and businessman seems rivaled only by his reputation as a truly generous, inclusive leader who sought to inspire and open doors for younger generations. Writing for GQ, Samuel Hine described Abloh as a "multi-multi-hyphenate creative whose tenure at [Louis Vuitton] was nothing less than groundbreaking." Tremaine Emory, Abloh's close collaborator and founder of fashion label Denim Tears, offered, "He’s one of the most powerful people in pop culture. There’s no one who’s been as powerful as him at his level of compassion, humanity, and kindness, and lightheartedness. There’s no one that feared him. Most people gain power through fear. He gained power through inclusion."

I’ve been on this focus in terms of my art and creativity, of getting adults to behave like children again. And they go back into this sense of wonderment. They start to stop using their mind, and they start using their imagination.

Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh

Born to Ghanaian immigrant parents in Rockford, Illinois, Abloh learned sewing from his mother who worked as a seamstress. After studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and receiving his Masters in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006, Abloh, formally entered the fashion world in 2009 with an internship at Fendi, alongside Kanye West. After a string of projects, including launching Chicago's RSVP Gallery, Abloh founded his Off-White high-end streetwear label in Milan in 2013. In 2018, Abloh joined Louis Vuitton as the artistic director of the brand's ready-to-wear menswear line, becoming one of few Black designers to ever lead at a major French fashion house.

As Abloh and his work continued to gain notoriety, he collaborated with a wide range of artists and brands, from IKEA to architect Rem Koolhaas to SSENSE. In 2017, he worked with Jenny Holzer to design garments pushing back against rising sentiments of neo-nationalism and the restriction of reproductive rights. He also counted Takashi Murakami among his frequent collaborators, and worked with the artist to design exhibitions at multiple Gagosian locations in 2018.

Abloh passed way from a rare form of cancer in 2021, and was honored at Art Basel Miami through the spectacular Louis Vuitton show that he helped to plan. The traveling exhibition Figures of Speech, organized by the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, is entirely dedicated to Abloh's life of explosive creativity and cultural influence.

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