Virgil Abloh: Pioneering designer who fused streetwear with high fashion

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Virgil Abloh, who died of cancer at the age of 41, was an American fashion designer whose styles drew audiences for everything from clothes and shoes to music and furniture.

Three years ago, Louis Vuitton named the streetwear guru artistic director of its men’s collection. When her first show that year for the French fashion house, in the gardens of the Palais Royal, Paris, presented the Spring / Summer 2019 collection on a rainbow-colored catwalk, Abloh invited hundreds of students, recognizing the power they held in an online age to make or break a mark.

Alongside them were stars such as Rihanna, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian to witness an exciting showcase – tie-dye looks, neon multi-pocket vests, minimalist all-white outfits, an aluminum-look poncho and Wizard of Oz-themed sweatshirts.

That same year, Abloh designed Hailey Baldwin’s off-the-shoulder lace gown for her secret wedding to Justin Bieber with the words “TIL DEATH DO US PART” in capital letters on her long train.

Abloh first caused a stir by having his t-shirt designs printed at a Chicago store and sending them to rapper-producer West, who asked him, as art director, to design covers for his albums.

My beautiful twisted dark fantasy (2010) originally featured a George Condo painting of a man riding on a bed by an armless naked woman resembling a phoenix as part of the design.

West claimed it was a deliberate ploy to get hip-hop LP banned to ensure maximum publicity. When Walmart refused to stock it, the photo on the front was replaced with a ballerina holding a wineglass, another of the five options presented by the artist.

Abloh at Paris Fashion Week in June 2020

(EPA)

For Look at the throne (2011), which saw West collaborate with Jay-Z, Abloh chose Givenchy’s creative director, Riccardo Tisci, to design the gold leaf sleeve. This earned Abloh a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package.

He also collaborated with West on set designs and merchandise for the tour, and was originally album covers for other artists such as Kid Cudi, ASAP Rocky, Lil Uzi Vert, Octavian, Westside Gunn and Pop Smoke.

In 2012, Abloh founded his own business, Pyrex Vision, aimed at representing youth culture, buying unsold Ralph Lauren clothing for $ 40 (£ 30), screen printing designs on it and selling items for over 550. $.

He described the business as an artistic experiment and closed it a year later when he launched his Milan-based fashion house Off-White. Her clothing, for men and women, featured the unmistakable black and white stripes seen on the hoodies and sneakers worn by pop stars Rita Ora and Rihanna.

The designer with Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid and Karlie Kloss in the finale of the Off-White fashion show in Paris in 2019

(Getty)

Abloh also tilted his eye for excess on the furniture. One collection, Gray Area, included tables with leather cushions and Carrara marble tops, as well as iron chairs.

Off-White’s reach was astounding. Levi, Jimmy Choo and Dr Martens were many brands to collaborate with the designer, all eager to bring Abloh’s talent to their products.

In 2016, he reinvented 10 of Nike’s most popular sneakers, such as the Air Max 90 and Air Presto. Two years later, a black ballerina-style dress, bomber jacket and sneakers labeled “Queen of Queens” formed the kit he designed for tennis star Serena Williams at the US Open.

After moving to Louis Vuitton, Abloh’s collaboration with Ikea kept UK customers in line overnight at its Wembley branch in 2019. It included a chair with a doorstop attached to one leg, as well as carpet bearing the words “KEEP OFF” and, on the red those, “BLUE”.

Kanye West and Abloh at Louis Vuitton Menswear S / S 2019 Fashion Show

(Getty)

Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1980 to Ghanaian immigrants, Eunice, a seamstress, and Nee Abloh, director of a painting company. He learned to sew from his mother and attended Boylan Catholic High School.

Abloh graduated from the University of Wisconsin with an engineering degree. It was while studying for a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology that he began to design t-shirts.

When he landed a job at Italian fashion house Fendi, he did an internship in his Rome office alongside Kanye West, who later appointed him as Creative Director of Donda, his creative content company.

Across the West, Abloh met Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and they exhibited together at exhibitions in the United States and Japan, emphasizing the synthesis of cultures and blurring the distinction between high and low.

Their America Too exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London in 2018 featured a metallic flower sculpture with Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki character at the top and Abloh’s crossed arrows at the foundation.

The same year, when Abloh moved to Louis Vuitton, flagship of the LVMH conglomerate, he sold Off-White to Farfetch for £ 556m. He was given greater creative responsibilities within the LVMH brand in early 2021.

Abloh is survived by his wife, Shannon (née Sundberg), the childhood sweetheart he married in 2009, their daughter Lowe and their son Gray.

Virgil Abloh, fashion designer, born September 30, 1980, died November 28, 2021

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