8 lessons that Virgil Abloh taught us

We picked a handful of illuminating quotes from his i-D conversations.

by Douglas Greenwood
29 November 2021, 12:51pm

Virgil Abloh, arguably the most prolific artist of this generation, and a man who was renowned for cultivating several creative practices, has died at the age of 41. But in his final years, since his diagnosis with a rare cancer in 2019, he appeared to be working harder than ever: as artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton; founder and creative director of OFF-WHITE; the most influential Black executive with an appointment at LVMH; a DJ; a collaborator of so many. Even in a life cut tragically short, there was little left that Virgil hadn’t tried, making his indelible mark on culture with unparalleled fervour and tenacity.

Over the years, we had been fortunate enough to cross paths with Virgil several times, be it at his shows, across our digital platforms or in the pages of the magazine. He spoke with purpose and wisdom, but always warmth. He had garnered a reputation for being dedicated and hardworking, but free of ego. In his rise to the top, a history-making move in many spaces where Black creatives had seldom been seen before, he extended a hand out to those following in his footsteps, lifting up young artists, designers and models with him. If his career opened doors, he was determined not to close them behind him: he wilfully and intentionally shared what he learned along the way, and laid a blueprint for others to follow.

Here is a selection of his valuable observations on art, practise, fashion and definition.

1. Avoid treading water, he told i-D in 2015.

"If you really want to do what you say you do, leave this conversation and do it. Go and print that T-shirt today, and by today I mean in the next 30 minutes. If you don't do it, that's your problem"

2. In the same conversation, he stressed how important ideas are.

“I love developing ideas. Ultimately, this became my world by accident. Trying to avoid a day job by having ideas… 30 ideas a day."

3. The idea of being disruptive doesn’t make you great, he told us in 2018. Instead, it’s an inclusive attitude and a perceptive eye.

“Imagine if I really believed I was taking ‘fashion’ and turning it on its head. That to me is easy. You can be a disruptor but it doesn't mean you're any good. All I'm trying to do is create things that are indicative of my surroundings and the community that I come from, so that more people can do them.”

**4. Embrace modernity, he told us in 2019, following his Louis Vuitton debut.

**“The idea of modernity speaks to my beliefs about inclusivity and being open-minded and respectful to people from all walks of life. That is at the heart of what I am pursuing in my own work. In this position, at this brand, there is a responsibility to represent what society could be.”

5. He added that it wasn’t good to think too deeply about definition. “I make things and I leave defining what that is to someone else”

6. His vision wasn’t just about his success, but something bigger he told us in 2015.

“In some ways, my life has been one big performance art project, it's not me at the centre stage but rather suggesting ideas, working on them, helping an artist share them with the world and watching the response — using that mood and feel to influence and inject new ideas.”

7. In the same conversation, Virgil described the domino effect, a ‘create and pass it’ on ethos.

"If I hadn't sat on Illustrator and gone to the screen printers to make it a reality, then it wouldn't have happened — everything else is a domino effect. It might be obvious, but for anyone reading this, finish it and then make shit happen, give it to your friends and then boom, you've entered the domino effect phase."

8. Make fashion that reflects reality, he told us after his LV debut.

“In fashion, there’s a tremendous amount of quest for what’s happening next. But it’s not too mysterious. It’s what’s happening outside the world of fashion. Sometime fashion ignores that and places itself on a pedestal. But times are changing and the future is not that far removed if you look in the right place.”

Virgil Abloh