With a college degree in engineering and a Master’s degree in architecture, Virgil Abloh would never have seemed destined to helm the world’s biggest luxury brand, but unexpected turns were a common theme in his life, right until the end, when his life was cut brutally short by a rare form of leukaemia. At 41, Abloh had achieved a lot in fashion: with his own label Off White, in art as the credited creator of some of the most iconic album covers of the 21st century, and of course, made history with Louis Vuitton.
His background in architecture feels apt in a way his fashion embodies urban landscape and architecture. Growing up in suburbia he and his friends would often make their own custom trainers and send them to Nike.
He often cited skateboarding fashion as an influence, in 6th grade he discovered graffiti. His work at Off White illustrates this – it’s often recognised for its sprayed-on slogans, these designs did often create a divide in opinion, one of his most famous works was his custom wedding dress for Hayley Bieber. Famous for its embroidered “death do us part” on the train. It’s not often spoken about how beautiful this and much of his other couture is as it is often a lot more compelling than his coveted streetwear. It was often minimal, understated, but glamorous and sophisticated and by all accounts much like Abloh himself. It was a far cry away from one perhaps his greatest creative partner Kanye West. He met West in 2002 and he had a clear stylistic influence on the artist, especially with his Yeezy line.
Abloh created the album covers for West’s albums “808s and Heartbreak”, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” and “Yeezus”, the latter is in my view one of the greatest album covers of all time, purely for not being one. The absence of an image, plays on the idea of mass production and capitalism, much like the album itself.
The two had a turbulent relationship at times, although Kanye had always been dubbed the Louis Vuitton ‘’Don’’ Abloh was appointed as creative director of the French powerhouse brand – a harsh blow to Kanye’s ego. This was ground-breaking as of course he was the first person of colour to do so. Making him one of the most established black fashion designers in history.
Although a trailblazer in this aspect, he had a complex relationship with the struggle, with the plight against racism. In 2020 he came under fire for criticizing the looting of goods, during the BLM protests of summer 2020, but later refuted this “my main concerns are anything other than full solidarity with my movements against police violence, racism, and inequality,” he wrote in an Instagram apology. “I want to update all systems that don’t address our current needs. It has been my MO in every realm I touch.”
Abloh’s death late last year came as an unwelcome surprise. Scarily young, the artist battled cancer in silence. His legacy and influence, however, are immortal.
Words: Aimee Armstrong