Virgil Abloh: Why the late designer is proof that fashion is anything but trivial
A look at the extraordinary career of the modern-day fashion icon
When the late Virgil Abloh was named artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton back in 2018, it broke multiple barriers. For starters, he was the first black person to hold that position in a French luxury brand. Then, he dared to bring his streetwear expertise to a brand that was thus far known for its high-end, ultra glamorous looks. Combining sneakers and hoodies with tailored jackets and luxe suits, he brought a whole new design language to high fashion and challenged the long-held notions of what luxury fashion ought to be. “Ironic things are interesting,” he was once quoted as saying.
Born to Ghanaian immigrants in Chicago, the 41-year designer and his sister grew up in Rockford, Illinois. An architect by education, Abloh picked up an interest in fashion and tailoring thanks to his mother, Eunice, who was a seamstress.
Having interned at Fendi, alongside Kanye West (now known as Ye), Abloh became the creative director of Donda, Ye’s creative agency, in 2010. In the following years, he was involved in multiple ventures - from art-directing Jay-Z and Ye’s album, Watch the Throne, to launching his first brand Pyrex Vision (which was made by printing the word ‘Pyrex’ and number ‘23’ on USD 40 deadstock shirts from Ralph Lauren). In 2013, he shut down Pyrex and unveiled his new label, Off-White. Abloh was always known for his unconventional approach to fashion and that is exactly what he did with Off-White. Calling himself a ‘maker’ as opposed to a designer, Abloh created Off-White to be a ‘creative platform’, an extension into everything from art and culture to music and travel, in addition to streetwear and luxury fashion. His trademark quotation marks became a symbol for subversive fashion with the launch of this label, which LVMH bought 60 percent of earlier this year.
A DJ and visual artist, Abloh has also designed doormats, wine glasses and a host of other objects that don’t strictly fall under fashion. His tenure at Louis Vuitton, saw him creating collections that appealed to younger consumers by challenging gender norms, divisions created by race and embracing inclusivity.
As fashion writers, the comment about fashion being trivial is one that we endure regularly. But surely, the work and life of Virgil Abloh, who dared to change the game by using fashion as his platform, is a great example of why it is anything but.
“When creativity melds together with global issues, I believe you can bring the world together.” – Virgil Abloh