By Jake Coyle | Associated press
NEW YORK – Virgil Abloh, a leading designer whose revolutionary fusions of streetwear and haute couture made him one of fashion’s most famous trendsetters and beyond, has died of cancer . He was 41 years old.
Abloh’s death was announced on Sunday by luxury group LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) and Abloh’s own brand Off-White, which he founded in 2013. Abloh was the artistic director of men’s fashion for Louis Vuitton, but its pervasive and friendly presence in the culture was broad and vibrant. Some have compared him to Jeff Koons. Others hailed him as the Karl Lagerfeld of his generation.
“We are all shocked after this terrible news. Virgil was not only a designer of genius, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom ”, declared Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH, in a press release.
A statement from Abloh’s family on the creator’s Instagram account said Abloh was diagnosed two years ago with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer in which a tumor occurs in the heart.
“He has chosen to wage his battle in private since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing many difficult treatments, while leading several important institutions that span fashion, art and culture,” the statement said.
In 2018, Abloh became the first black artistic director of men’s clothing at Louis Vuitton in the rich history of the French design house. A first-generation Ghanaian American whose mother a seamstress taught him to sew, Abloh had no formal training in fashion but had an engineering degree and a master’s degree in architecture.
Abloh, who grew up in Rockford, Illinois, outside of Chicago, was often considered a Renaissance man in the fashion world. He moonlighted as a DJ. But in no time, he became one of the most acclaimed fashion designers. Abloh called himself “a creator”. He was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people in 2018.
In 2009, Abloh met Kanye West – now called Ye – while working at a screen printing store. After he and Ye interned together at LVMH brand Fendi, Abloh was Ye’s creative director. Abloh was artistic director of Ye-Jay-Z’s 2011 album “Watch the Throne”, for which Abloh was nominated for a Grammy.
Abloh’s work with West has served as a model for future cross-border collaborations that combine high and low. With Nike, he teamed up with his label Off-White for a line of frenzied sneakers remixed with a variety of Helvetica styles and fonts. Abloh has also designed furniture for IKEA, refillable bottles for Evian and Big Mac boxes for McDonald’s. His work has been exhibited at the Louvre, the Gagosian and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Abloh’s death stunned the entertainment world. Actor Riz Ahmed said on Twitter that Abloh “stretched the culture and changed the game.” Fashion designer Jeff Staple wrote: “You taught us all to dream. Pharrell Williams called Abloh a “kind, generous and thoughtful creative genius.”
Abloh took what he called a “3% approach” to fashion – that a new design could be created by modifying a 3% original. Critics have said Abloh is more brilliant at repackaging than creating something new. But Abloh’s style was also self-aware – quotes were a trademark to him – and noble.
“In my mind, streetwear is tied to Duchamp,” Abloh told The New Yorker in 2019. “It’s that idea of the ready-made. I’m talking about the Lower East Side, New York. It’s like hip-hop. It’s sampling. I take James Brown, I cut it, I make a new song.
The stars lined up to be dressed by Abloh. Beyoncé, Michael B. Jordan, Kim Kardashian West, Timothée Chalamet and Serena Williams wore her clothes.
Abloh’s Off-White label, in which LVMH acquired a majority stake earlier this year, has made him an arbiter of cool. But his Louis Vuitton appointment took Abloh to the top of an industry in which he was once a rambling underdog – and made Abloh one of the most powerful black executives in a historically closed fashion world.
As Abloh prepared for his first menswear show in 2018, he told GQ: “I now have a platform to change the industry.”
“We’re designers, so we can start a trend, we can highlight issues, we can get a lot of people to focus on something, or we can get a lot of people to focus on ourselves,” he said. said Abloh. “I’m not interested in (the latter). I’m interested in using my platform as a member of a very small group of African American men to design a house, to show people in a poetic way.
Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon Abloh and his children, Lowe and Gray.