Fashion designer Virgil Abloh, the founder of Off-White and the men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, has died at 41. A post shared to the designer’s Instagram account revealed that Abloh had been battling a rare, aggressive form of cancer — cardiac angiosarcoma — since 2019. He chose to keep the news private while undergoing treatments and continuing to work at the helm of two iconic fashion houses. In addition, he continued to oversee a long list of creative collaborations with a wide range of brands, from Nike, to Mr. Porter, and Evian.
Prior to launching his label Off-White in 2012, Abloh was an intern at Fendi in 2009 — at the same time as Kanye West. A friendship soon developed between the two and Abloh became West’s creative director at DONDA (a creative content agency). From there, Abloh launched his first company Pyrex Vision in 2012, where he screen-printed designs on deadstock clothing including Champion hoodies and Ralph Lauren flannels. Though eventually he shut the label down, the creative came back with Off-White that same year, which became a hit.
The Milan-based fashion house helped pioneer the rise of luxury streetwear and athleisure. His signature touches included the use of orange zip ties on sneakers and quotation marks, which usually contained a cheeky phrase or word like “for spending” imprinted on a wallet. The designer’s aesthetic can be best described as hype fashion — the invention of the next, unexpected It-thing, which Abloh excelled at. In fact, the idea of creating novel products and his use of experimentation in fashion was central to the brand’s aesthetic and name. (Off-White was defined as the gray color zone in between black and white.)
“Everyday objects, a pair of socks, a T-shirt, can all be made into high fashion using intellect,” Abloh said to Art Net in 2018. “It’s something that is as impactful as Duchamp saying that a urinal is a fountain. And I think that anything made after that can be seen in a different light. Culture itself can be looked at in a certain way.”
His creativity and brilliance as a designer caught the attention of those at Louis Vuitton and in 2018, Abloh became artistic director of menswear for the famed Parisian brand. It was a special moment as Abloh became the first African-American to lead the brand's menswear line. He was also one of the few Black designers to lead a major luxury fashion house. In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, shortly after his role was announced, he said: “I feel elated. This opportunity to think through what the next chapter of design and luxury will mean at a brand that represents the pinnacle of luxury was always a goal in my wildest dreams. And to show a younger generation that there is no one way anyone in this kind of position has to look is a fantastically modern spirit in which to start.”
Abloh was a dedicated designer and a champion of young creatives, never failing to put in his all even after his cancer diagnosis. His in memoriam Instagram caption read: “Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered. Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations,” read that Instagram caption.
Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, and his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh.