Virgil Abloh was a designer, creative director, artist, architect and entrepreneur whose indelible mark on the fashion industry is still strongly felt today. He is widely known and celebrated as the founder of luxury streetwear brand Off—White as well as for his role as artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear division, but his career began far from fashion.
Born in Rockford, Illinois, to a middle class Ghanaian immigrant family, Abloh initially pursued a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering followed by a master’s in architecture in 2002. It was during this time that Abloh’s life began pivoting towards the world of fashion and the start of his earliest fashion experiments, simple print t-shirts for his friends.
His earliest ventures into the fashion world were put on a fast track by his prolific activity within the music collective “Boys Noize” where he would DJ under the stage name Flat White and in the streetwear collective “Been Trill”, famously frequented by Matthew Williams, Samuel Ross and Heron Preston.
His figure became publicly known outside of the DJ scene when he became creative director of Kanye West’s creative agency DONDA in 2012. Shortly after, in 2013, he finally founded his own fashion brand, Pyrex Vision, which gained immense mediatic traction by featuring screen-printed designs on vintage Ralph-Lauren flannels.
The Ralph-Lauren Pyrex collection put Abloh on the spot and allowed him to quickly gain a large following of people who had come to love Abloh’s edgy aesthetic and bold graphics.
In 2014 Abloh rebranded Pyrex Vision drastically, beginning to produce their own garments and renaming the brand as Off—White, as well as aiming at working with high profile individuals and brands. Over the years, Abloh’s collaboration strategy combined with his marketing and creative genius allowed his brand to grow massively, working alongside the likes of Nike with the famous “the 10” sneaker collection, Ikea, Jimmy Choo, Mercedes Benz and many more, allowed in 2018 for Off—White to be named one of the most influential brands in the world by Lyst.
That same year, 2018, was the year when Virgil Abloh was appointed by Louis Vuitton as their new menswear artistic director, in this role he kept pushing the boundaries of traditional luxury fashion, infusing his designs with his streetwear edge such as his signature quotation marks.
The following year he was celebrated as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world as well as being named the International Designer of the Year by GQ.
Abloh was a keen supporter of sustainable and ethical fashion all his life, frequently speaking out about the environmental and social impact of the industry. He was known for his usage of upcycled garments and repurposing of materials which earned him a cosigned collection in 2021 with Eileen Fisher.
Outside of fashion, Abloh was a keen philanthropist, using his platform to support a large number of charitable causes, including COVID-19 relief efforts, great deals of support to African American communities, the now world-famous “Postmodern” foundation allowing young people interested in fashion and design to develop their passions.
Abloh’s passion for art was a major element in defining his personal style, working with many museums and artists such as Takashi Murakumi, KAWS and Christopher Wool, his platform supported countless young emerging artists and often featured their work alongside his own in exhibitions, the most popular of which being “figures of speech”, hosted in 2019 in Chicago’s Contemporary Art Museum. He was known for his dedication to mentorship and education, eventually getting to teach a masterclass on fashion and creativity at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Virgil Abloh tragically passed away in November of 2021 at the age of 41 after a private battle with cancer. His death was widely mourned in the fashion industry and beyond. In many ways, Abloh’s rise to fame is a testament to the power of hard work and determination, from his humble beginnings he became one of the most influential figures in fashion, breaking all kinds of barriers and pushing boundaries, redefining what luxury fashion can be, with his influence still showing no signs of slowing down.