Remembering Virgil Abloh

Jeremiah Barron, Contributing Writer

Virgil Abloh, prominent fashion designer and founder of the fashion brand “Off-White,” died on November 28th after a two year-long battle with a rare form of cancer: cardiac angiosarcoma. Abloh was only 41 years old.

Abloh began his life in Rockford, Illinois, as the son of two Ghanian immigrants. Abloh went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the class of 2002 with a degree in civil engineering. Four years later, Abloh would earn his master’s degree in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Abloh told Vogue that the unveiling of a building designed by renowned architect Rem Koolhas on campus “piqued [his] interest and opened [his] gateway into fashion.” Koolhas, in addition to his work as an architect, also designed multiple runway fashion collections, which inspired Abloh to pursue a career in design.

This newfound passion led Abloh to take an internship at Fendi in Rome with his friend, Kanye West. Abloh and West met in 2002 at a print shop in Chicago. The pair became quick friends, with Abloh designing multiple album covers for the artist. Abloh was then offered the role of Creative Director of Kanye West’s design agency DONDA. From there, West and Abloh continued to collaborate, earning Abloh a Grammy nomination for his work on Watch the Throne in 2011.

Abloh believ[ed] “in the power of art to inspire future generations.”

In 2012, Abloh launched his first fashion line: Pyrex Vision. Pyrex, despite its popularity, did not fulfill Abloh’s ambitions. Pyrex simply flipped Champion clothes for high prices after Abloh would print a design onto them. As a result, Abloh made the decision to shut down Pyrex and found his new company “Off-White.” Abloh told TeenVogue that his goal for the company “was to tell a dialogue between high fashion and streetwear,” adding, “the name Off-White, in my mind, is between black and white. So, that middle ground is a mixture between both genres of fashion.”

He continued to develop the brand for years and in 2017, he landed his most pivotal deal: a collaboration with Nike. The ten “Off-White” x Nike shoes released as a result of this collaboration rocked the fashion market, and Abloh’s popularity quickly grew. Less than a year after the release, Abloh received the title of Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. In 2018, Off-White was named the number one fashion brand in the world by the Fashion Network’s Lyst index.

Abloh’s legacy will span far beyond his tangible assets, his UNC Jordan 1’s, or his Nike Prestos. Abloh has inspired an entire generation to take an interest in fashion, design, and the creative arts in general. In an Instagram post announcing his death, Abloh’s wife, Shannon Abloh, recalled Abloh believing “in the power of art to inspire future generations.” Truly, he has demonstrated this.

In 2018, Time Magazine listed Abloh as a member of the Top 100 most influential people in the world. Abloh told The Cut: “there’s no line between a designer and a consumer.” Virgil Abloh, a man with no formal education in fashion design, simply used his own perspective on the world, the youth, and global issues to form one of the largest fashion enterprises in history.

This piece also appears in our December 2021 print edition.