A year after his untimely death at the age of 41, Virgil Abloh’s influence continues to reverberate through the luxury industry.
His designs remain as popular as ever, as evidenced by Louis Vuitton’s partnership with Dover Street Market Ginza to exhibit and sell key pieces created during his four-year tenure as the French luxury brand’s artistic director of menswear.
Earlier this year, a charity auction at Sotheby’s of his Louis Vuitton and Nike “Air Force 1” sneakers racked up a record-breaking $25.3 million. Proceeds benefited the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” scholarship fund for Black fashion students, ensuring that his legacy is carried on by future generations of design talent.
In recognition of his impact, the CFDA will posthumously grant Abloh its Board of Trustee’s Award based on his contribution to global fashion.
Born in Rockford, Illinois, of Ghanaian parents, Abloh was an artist, architect, engineer, creative director and designer. After earning a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he completed a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
His polymath approach to design set the template for a new generation of designers. In addition to founding luxury streetwear brand Off-White, he collaborated with brands including Nike, Ikea, Mercedes-Benz, Evian, Galerie Kreo, Jacob & Co., Braun, Rimowa and Moët & Chandon.
Abloh was well aware that some critics did not consider him a bona fide fashion designer, addressing the issue in the notes for his debut Vuitton show.
“I don’t call myself a designer, nor do I call myself an image-maker. I don’t reject the label of either. I am not trying to put myself on a pedestal, nor am I trying to be more, now. I would like to define the title of artistic director for a new and different era,” he posited.
Abloh joined Vuitton in March 2018, and his first show that year marked a new chapter in fashion: the moment when streetwear crashed the hallowed halls of luxury brands, and the first time a Black designer had taken the reins of a major luxury brand.
Having risen to fame as rapper Kanye West’s creative director, Abloh launched Off-White in late 2013. The label held its first showroom presentation in Paris the following January with designs that merged influences ranging from Bauhaus to sports apparel and Caravaggio.
Off-White made it onto the short list of the 2015 edition of the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, crystallizing the advent of streetwear as a credible challenger to the luxury status quo, and cementing close ties to the French group.
Abloh presented his work at important design institutions around the globe, including the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and the Rhode Island School of Design.
In 2019, he had a major exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago called “Figures of Speech,” currently on show at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City.