Music and fashion creative Virgil Abloh has died at the age of 41 following a two-year battle with cancer. The fashion and music community was rocked by the news of his passing, which was first announced on his personal Instagram account.
According to the statement posted on his Instagram page, “For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma. 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.”
Abloh is survived by his wife of 12 years Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh and his Ghanian-born parents Nee and Eunice Abloh.
The first warning Abloh’s health was amiss came in September 2019 when he announced he was taking a three-month break from his frenetic pace. At the time Abloh stated, “I was just tired, so I went to the doctor. Ultimately, everything is fine, but the doctor told me ‘this pace that you’ve sort of pushed your body, to fly all these miles, do all these different projects, is not good for your health.’”
Know for his open approach to creativity and a love of collaboration, the news was followed by an outpouring of posts memorializing him on social media. Statements were also made by Nike with whom Abloh has enjoyed a highly successful collaborative partnership since 2017. LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, where Abloh was the creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear, also posted a statement.
While the list of Abloh’s collaborative partners is lengthy, some of the more prominent ones in addition to Nike are IKEA, Levi, Moncler, Evian, Jimmy Choo, Warby Parker, Champion, Converse, Dr. Martens, Timberland and Byredo among others.
Reflecting his love of music, Abloh has also created merch for Travis Scott, Kid Cudi and of course Ye (formerly known as Kanye West). He’s also donated his work to multiple fund-raising projects such as Planned Parenthood and more recently, Coalition for the Homeless.
Abloh was appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear in March 2018. Earlier this year is was announced Abloh had sold a 60 percent stake in the Off-White trademark to the Paris-based luxury house.
A class of 2003 graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago where he received a masters in architect, there are are several stories on how Abloh had what would be a lifechanging first meeting with Ye.
Given how momentous their intersection would turn out to be, not surprisingly there are multiple versions of how they met. In one version, Abloh skipped his graduation from the University of Wisconsin to take a meeting with the rapper arranged by Ye’s then manager, John Monopoly. However, in an exchange with GQ, childhood friend Christopher Eaton said the fateful meeting came when Abloh was attending the Illinois Institute of Chicago while also working at print shop Custom Kings. While Eaton said he was commissioned by Don Crawley to create some designs, Crawley told GQ he was introduced to Abloh by his cousin, Monopoly.
A third take described Abloh as working at a Chicago architectural firm while also DJ-ing and creating pop up events and entering Ye’s circle through an introduction by Don Crawley.
Abloh and Ye would go on to intern together at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand Fendi in 2009. While Ye formally announced he had launched creative platform Donda Creative in 2012, a profile of Abloh in Chicago Magazine in 2011 describes him as West’s art director with the platform starting up in 2010. According to the previously-mentioned GQ profile, Abloh began working with West in 2007.
In 2009, Abloh had opened RSVP Gallery in partnership with Crawley and Marc Moran, an effort first conceptualized in 2008.
Reflecting his enduring love of music, in spring 2012 Abloh along with Matthew Williams, Justin Saunders, Kanye West (referred to as YWP) and Heron Preston launched Been Trill, a DJ collective. Soccer player and DJ Florence Galarzia would later join the collective. According to Williams, “[Been Trill] was created in the Lanesborough Hotel. We were all staying there during the “Watch the Throne” tour while ‘Ye was recording Cruel Summer.”
Been Trill quickly extended its brand through merchandise, including a t-shirt with HBA that was planned as a gift item for a private brunch that blew up and become a must-have item. As quick as Been Trill blew up, it cooled down with A$AP Rocky declaring the brand utterly over in “Multiply,” a song he released in 2014.
In the same year the Been Trill collective was formed, Abloh launched Pyrex Vision, a double entendre referencing the glassware used to cook crack cocaine as well as the then use of the word crack to describe a well put together outfit. Providing some further insight into the name choice, A$AP Rocky revealed Abloh had come up with the name in a brainstorming session with A$AP Twelvy.
Best known for a collection of Ralph Lauren garments printed with the word Pyrex, the label would anchor Abloh’s three-percent approach, rooted in the concept of making only minor changes to a silhouette as a creative process.
Forced to change the name of the label because of a cease and desist from Pyrex, Abloh reformed the label as Off-White, the street name for crack cocaine. While retaining full ownership of the Off-White name, in December 2013 Abloh would launch in partnership with Marcelo Burlon, Claudio Antonioli, and David Davide De Giglio, who would provide production for the label as part of the holding company New Guards Group.
While not widely reported, Abloh was part of a team of creatives who designed for Shayne Oliver and Raul Lopez‘s label Hood by Air during the period it was among New Guards Group’s stable of brands.
Abloh showed Off-White’s first menswear collection, dubbed the “Youth Will Always Win,” in fall 2014. Off-White’ women’s offerings followed not long after and the label opened its first store in the Aoyama district of Tokyo in 2016.
Check out some of the responses to the sad news of Abloh passing below.