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Off White and Louis Vuitton Fashion Visionary Virgil Abloh Passes at 41

Virgil Abloh at Paris Fashion Week 2019. On the right, an image of his "You're Obviously in the Wrong Place," 2015-2019 career retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, 2021.
Virgil Abloh at Paris Fashion Week 2019. On the right, an image of his “You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place,” 2015-2019 career retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, 2021. Myles Kalus Anak Jihem — Wikipedia Commons/Pretty Woman — Flickr

Notable figures across the arts, fashion, and sports industries have shared tributes to designer Virgil Abloh, who died from cancer at age 41 on Sunday, Nov. 28. This includes Kendall Jenner, Kanye West (for whom Abloh was a groomsman), Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Bieber (whose wedding dress he designed), and Drake.

“My plan is to touch the sky 1000 more times for you…love you eternally brother…thank you for everything,” Drake wrote on Instagram.

On Sunday, a post on Abloh’s official Instagram account shared news of his death and revealed the designer’s private two-year battle against cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

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“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend,” the post read. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture. Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered.”

In a transcendent career that traversed creative industries, Abloh was an artist, architect, and fashion designer who elevated celebrities to new heights. According to his website, it was at the Illinois Institute of Technology where Abloh took up a curriculum established by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which was formed from Bauhaus notions. It was the combination of this technology, craftsmanship, and design aesthetics that inspired the man to bring together art, craft, and design. These theories merged with contemporary culture to make up Abloh’s inter-disciplinary practice.

Abloh arrived with this multifaceted approach at exactly the right time. The designer, who was perhaps best known for being the founder of the high-end streetwear brand Off-White, transformed not just what people wanted to wear, but what brands wanted in a designer. 

Abloh combined an artistic street aesthetic with high fashion, music, and philosophy to produce tangible totems of identity. His 2021 career retrospective, “Figures of Speech,” highlighted Abloh’s mastery of the ironic wink to re-contextualize art into the familiar and serve it up to the oft-excluded masses. In the show, ultra-cool mannequins sat below the yellow neon-emblazoned proclamation, “You’re obviously in the wrong place.”

This was the icon’s response to art’s elitist gatekeepers.

“There is a feeling like you don’t get it, or you don’t belong,” Abloh said during a press preview of the Boston run of the exposition. “That’s kind of what makes the wall stand taller.”

Breaking down barriers was one of Abloh’s specialties. He became the first Black man to be an artistic director for Louis Vuitton, and the third to lead a French luxury fashion house. He brought a younger demographic to the fashion firm, introducing menswear collections that blurred the lines between high fashion and streetwear, as well as pushed artistic boundaries and challenged gender norms.

“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Vuitton’s official Twitter account stated. 

After interning with Italian designer Fendi as part of a cohort that included Kanye West in 2009, he became a massive influence in the music industry, receiving a 2011 Grammy nomination for album design work with Kanye and Jay-Z. Music titans like Pharrell Williams, Frank Ocean, and Questlove penned online tributes to Abloh while artists like Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, and Jack Harlow reposted photographs on their Instagram stories.

As an iconic fashion designer, Abloh was especially beloved by the models that became some of his best friends. 

“if you had the privilege of knowing Virgil, you were one of the lucky ones,” Kendal Jenner wrote in an Instagram post featuring photographs and video of the pair. “He was the kindest, most positive, humble, joyful, and full of light person i have ever known.”

Before his untimely death, Abloh was planning a Louis Vuitton fashion show in Miami, Florida to coincide with the opening of the brand’s new men’s store there. A presentation of his spring-summer 2022 collection is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 30, according to an update posted from Louis Vuitton’s official Twitter account.

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