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Photo: Virgil Abloh
Virgil Abloh was a man who broke many walls, tore down many barriers, and paved the way for an entire generation of young, ambitious people of color. His contributions to fashion and the definition of fashion were unparalleled and his life sadly came to an end on the 29th of December.
He died in Chicago after a two-year-long battle with cardiac angiosarcoma. The rare type of cancer stole his life at 41 but his ambitions live on in those who inspired him and in the legacy he created.
Virgil Abloh’s Origins Growing Up in Illinois
Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois on the 30th of September in 1980. His mother and father Nee and Eunice were Ghanaian immigrants. Their family grew up immersed in a culture of skate and Hip Hop so arts were always a part of his life.
He didn’t seriously study fashion but he did attend the University of Wisconsin and studied civil engineering. He earned a master’s degree in architecture from The Illinois Institute of Technology and perhaps this is where the beginning of his need to create began. His mother who was a seamstress added on to this by teaching him the basics of sewing and making clothing. At the ripe age of 22, Abloh met Kanye West and this was the beginning of his professional career. Kanye West signed a deal with Louis Vuitton for a sneaker collaboration and his creative team, which now included Abloh, were the heads of Fashion Week that year (2009).
“Streetwear wasn’t on anyone’s radar, but the sort of chatter at dinners after shows was like ‘Fashion needs something new. It’s stagnant. What’s the new thing going to be?’ That was the timeline on which I was crafting my ideas,” Abloh said when asked about his humble beginnings with West and Louis Vuitton. Following this life-changing experience, Abloh became a permanent part of West’s creative team for all other projects, helping him turn ideas into reality whether it be the latest album, outfit, or aesthetic.
Abloh’s Career With Louis Vuitton and Off-White
Abloh was currently the artistic director of the men’s wear branch of Louis Vuitton, a reputable title that wasn’t even the peak of his accomplishments. Abloh created the brand known as Off-White, a famous fashion brand that is popular among teenagers and young adults. He even collaborated with Nike and Evian, who was a famous fashion theorist. He partook in many controversial conversations and projects that were compared to those of notorious creators like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, both legends.
When he was younger, he also had a six-month internship at Fendi which made him $500 a month but more importantly taught him the ins and outs of the fashion industry and business. This is what eventually inspired his Off-white brand, which was meant to use quotation marks and winking allegiance to create a new idea out of the old. The project was originally an idea known as Pyrex Vision and was a collaboration with Been Trill, a DJ, and creative collective.
His ability to transform what people wanted to war and model but also wanted to find in a designer revolutionized the bridge between hypebeast culture and the luxury world of fashion. The seamless way he combined both worlds changed what the general public considered fashion to be. Abloh proved that no singular definition of fashion was correct or applicable, that just like in this country, a melting pot of ideas will birth the most authentic and strong results.
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Clothing Is Identity – Abloh Made Sure The World Knew
Abloh’s creativity perhaps arose from his perspective on clothing – they were not garments to be born when stepping outside, they were a part of his identity. To him, fashion had the same status and ability to change lives as art or music or philosophy did – it told a story. His favorite techniques included employing irony, reference, and often times a little self-aware wink to take what we knew to be familiar and give it an entirely new meaning and impact. It allowed a sense of cultural currency to prevail and his ability to incorporate the digital world with this proved that Abloh was masterfully moving in time with the changes this world was experiencing.
Family and Friends Share On What It Was Like To Be Surrounded By Abloh’s Joyful and Dedicated Presence
“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Bernard Arnault said. He is the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
Even those high profile individuals like Spike Lee loved being dressed by Abloh and experiencing firsthand the creative process he possessed. For Grand Jury president at the Cannes Film Festival, Abloh dressed Lee in a bright suit of pink and sunset-salmon tones that garnered a lot of well-deserved attention.
Friends and family who reflect on his life point out his admirable and at times frightening dedication to work and strict schedules. He was always working, always creating, whether it be as a DJ, which he did as a side-job, or a furniture designer, this need to build and evoke emotion was always bubbling beneath his fingertips. Abloh loved to call himself a “maker” rather than a designer, which we can all concede to – Abloh knew how to make something and have it impact you as an individual.
Those who continue to perpetuate his legacy include his wife Shannon Abloh and his kids, Lowe and Gray Abloh. His sister Edwina and his parents are also alive and still speak and spread the legacy he created and solidified in his very first Louis Vuitton show all those years ago. He impacted and impressed celebrities like West, Rihanna, and ASAP Rocky but most of all he inspired an entire generation of young creators to be unafraid and give life to their ideas. After all, they may change the very foundation of an industry, just like Virgil Abloh did.
By Mireille Karadanaian
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Mireille Karadanaian is an entertainment journalist, whose passion for reviewing upcoming TV shows and movies has existed since a young age. She writes reviews and feature entertainment stories for The Hollywood Insider’s inclusive and authentic platform, contributing to the important stories being told in media today. Mireille loves discussing the impact today’s media is making on younger generations who emulate what they see on screen and the Internet, a double-edged sword. Her stories often include the importance of creating content that inspires inclusion, positivity, and productive messages to all audiences and generations. Mireille’s love of covering TV shows, movies, and exciting questions that are being asked in the media world is seen in her writing and her ability to not just report facts but also tell a story.