Ghanaian-American creative director Virgil Abloh broke boundaries in the tradition-soaked fashion industry, bringing streetwear to the highest levels of the luxury market, as well as becoming one of the few Black designers to take the creative helm at a major luxury house.
He reinvented the role of a creative director, injecting it with hip-hop’s penchant for remixing, skateboarding’s sense of community and a desire for social progress. And he helped open doors to a wider cast of creatives, engaging directly with his followers, online and off, and offering them “cheat codes” and “trails of information” for how to launch brands of their own.
He was called the Karl Lagerfeld of his generation, a multi-tasking creative genius with business savvy and almost superhuman energy.
Born in 1980 to Ghanaian parents, Abloh grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002 and went on to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He first rose to prominence as Kanye West 's creative director and the duo interned together at Fendi in 2009.
Abloh launched his first fashion line, Pyrex Vision, in 2012 and collaborated with Matthew Williams and Heron Preston as part of a collective called Been Trill before partnering with the company that would become New Guards Group to launch upscale streetwear sensation Off-White in 2013. In 2017, he unveiled a landmark collaboration with Nike, deconstructing ten of its signature sneakers. And in 2018, he succeeded Kim Jones as the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton.
His first show for Louis Vuitton aimed to reboot the brand for a new generation, featuring a diverse cast of models who walked down a rainbow runway wearing a collection inspired by the 1939 musical film “The Wizard of Oz,” a reference to the American Dream and Abloh’s own boundary-breaking journey along a personal “Yellow Brick Road” of sorts, from Illinois to the Emerald City of Paris.
In July 2021, Louis Vuitton parent LVMH cemented its relationship with Abloh, acquiring a majority stake in the entity through which the designer owned Off-White’s intellectual property and giving Abloh an unprecedented new role working across LVMH’s vast portfolio to “leverage together the group’s expertise to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond the realm of fashion.”
Abloh died in November 2021, aged 41, after a private battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer. His death prompted an outpouring of emotion from industry figures and close collaborators throughout the fashion, music and art worlds. Abloh was a “genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Bernard Arnault , chairman and chief executive of LVMH, said at the time.