Remembering Virgil Abloh and His Artistic Legacy

Nov 29, 2021

Arielle LeJarde

6 min read

Over the weekend, we learned the devastating news that Louis Vuitton's designer and creative director, Virgil Abloh, tragically passed on November 28. His camp posted, "We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend. He is survived by his loving wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh, and numerous dear friends and colleagues." 

The visionary had been battling cardiac angiosarcoma—a rare form of cancer—over the last two years. The Medicine Journal reports, "Primary cardiac angiosarcoma is rare, but it is the most aggressive type of cardiac malignant tumor. When disease is confirmed it is often late in its stage resulting in a poor prognosis." 

Like Black Panther protagonist Chadwick Boseman, Virgil Abloh hadn't publicly stated he was dealing with the illness. His team added that Abloh "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."

Virgil Abloh was a mogul in every realm, never boxed into one category. And his work in each medium encompasses everything the world loves about hip-hop culture. So while he gained prominence for founding luxury streetwear brand Off-White in 2012, his love of art plausibly began with music.

Inspired by names like A-Trak, Benji B, Gilles Peterson, and the X-Men versus Invisibl Skratch Piklz scratch-battle series, Abloh began DJing house parties in high school. He tells HYPEBEAST, "The plan for me has always been to never formally define. I've always been into different genres of music, so playing [music] has been something I've been doing since high school. It's been 15 years now. I've been DJing since I was 18, 19, through high school and college. This has always been one of my favorite pastimes — representing different genres of music and bases of nightlife."

While a notable name in hip-hop, Virgil was no stranger to dance music. But although his roots are in Chicago, Detroit techno is what got his feet wet. He adds, "I'd transition from hip-hop scratching, in the vein of DJing, to listening to Gilles Peterson. I'd link my dad's fascination with jazz and soul to the hip-hop I was listening to. I grew up listening to hip-hop such as Common and Tribe Called Quest. House electronic music wasn't at the forefront, and it's a shame [seeing that] I'm from Chicago. I learned [about] Detroit techno [through] Benji B. For a kid, that was the way you learned in the '80s. There was no music education in those genres, just hip-hop."

Abloh released his first single "ORVNGE" with Boys Noise in 2018, becoming the titular track for a 3-song EP. From there, his DJ career finally skyrocketed. He shared his love of music by securing coveted gigs at Hi Ibiza, Tomorrowland in 2019, and a residency at XS Nightclub in Wynn Las Vegas. He seamlessly blended his passions into one and partnered with Pioneer to design a transparent CDJ-2000NXS2 and DJM-900NSX2 for his "FIGURES OF SPEECH" exhibition.

However, his music arguably would have never made it into so many of our playlists without Virgil's fashion career. The trendsetter interned at Fendi alongside Kanye West in 2009, paving the way for their early collaborative relationship. As Abloh's meteoric rise in the fashion industry began, he caught the attention of Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke. 

After Abloh was named the creative director for the brand (and the first African-American one at that), Burke told the New York Times, "I was really impressed with how [Virgil Abloh and Kanye West] brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi. I have been following his career ever since."

But the way Virgil Abloh became a household name was through his trailblazing in streetwear after founding the iconic Off-White label. Known for its in-your-face branding, jam-packed with bold sayings in uppercase letters, highlighter yellow coloring, and clean, transparent materials, Off-White became a brand every hypebeast yearned for. The label's collaborations with IKEA and Nike were instant sell-outs. People lined up just for a chance to get their hands on a piece.

Only two years after starting the brand, Abloh premiered at Paris Fashion Week. And in 2015, Off-White was named a finalist for the LVMH Prize— awarded to designers under the age of 40—calling back to Burke's eye on Abloh's career trajectory. In March 2018, Virgil became artistic director of Louis Vuitton's men's ready-to-wear line. And by the end of 2018, Off-White zoomed past Gucci to become one of the world's hottest labels based on sales and consumer loyalty.

Abloh's imaginative vision transcended any one art form, and he was always open to collaborating with creatives in every medium. For example, his work with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami was showcased in Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and several of Murakami's galleries. He also had solo exhibits in Chicago, Tokyo, Boston, and Brooklyn.

Although Abloh is an indisputable genius, he didn't go without controversy. He received heavy criticism on his cover art for Pop Smoke's posthumous album Shoot For the Stars, Aim For The Moon. He was also under scrutiny for only donating $50 to bail funds and speaking out against looters during this generation's most significant civil rights movement. But there is something we can all learn from Virgil's mistakes. Always taking it in stride and never taking jokes too personally, he always used his critiques as a learning experience, with actions to back up his growth.

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.We thank you all for your love and support, and we ask for privacy as we grieve and celebrate Virgil's life.Virgil AblohSeptember 30, 1980 – November 28, 2021

On June 7, he Tweeted, "I appreciate the open mind, room to resolve the volume on my approach, grow, ultimately succeed and then lead. i can't get to be 100% in real-time without passing thru 99%. but we'll hit 100% for sure…"

Abloh effortlessly encompassed true artistry. And while we can list Virgil Abloh's accomplishments spanning fashion, music, and visual art, these are stops on the road map of his career. What makes him so impactful is how he touched the hearts of so many. He showed us that regardless of any measure of success, he was always open to having conversations, collaborating with others, and making room to learn and grow.

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