Virgil Abloh 1980-2021

The groundbreaking designer passed away aged 41, following a private battle with cancer.

by i-D Staff
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29 November 2021, 10:43am

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On Sunday, Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, founder and CEO of Off-White, and trailblazing force for change in the fashion industry, passed away, following a private battle with a rare form of cancer. “For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled […] cardiac angiosarcoma,” it was announced on his Instagram page. “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.”

Here, we compile tributes from Virgil’s friends, collaborators, and members of the i-D team.

Alastair McKimm, i-D Editor-in-chief

VIRGIL TOOK THE WORLD BY STORM. He took our world by storm. He changed everything, forever. 

I first met Virgil in 2015, and started working together with him on OFF-WHITE in 2016. This morning, I had to check these dates as it’s unbelievable, with everything he’s achieved since, that it was only that long ago. He was a prolific, abundant creator -- and in the years that I’ve known him, I was able to witness him completely change culture.

Everyone I know who met him considered him a friend, because he was. He championed all of us, and he made our industry -- and the world -- a better place to be in. He was the personification of positivity. 

One of the last things he wrote to me was: ‘i-D is so important. For this culture there’s few other safe havens’. So we march on, trying our best to honour his legacy, truly blessed to have been in his orbit.

Carlos Nazario, i-D Fashion Director 

Dear V,

The impact of your presence in every space you entered was indelible, indescribable, profound. You understood that influence and leveraged it, incredibly, in the most powerful ways.

You always led with kindness, joy, generosity, truth, SPIRIT. You were always a few steps ahead but never ever forget to reach back.

You forever changed the way we thought about ourselves, you altered the realm of what was possible for kids that looked like us, thought like us, felt like us.

You were a truly great visionary in every sense of the word and an even greater human being. You were just different.

You cared so deeply, loved so hard, gave so freely, so tirelessly of yourself.

You would say to me “Kids like us never get tired.” You certainly never did. Even if you did, you never showed it. You knew that an entire generation was inspired to work harder, be better and do more because of your seemingly infinite energy.

Now it is your time to rest King. We will make sure that you live on through all of us.

So much love always,

C

Olivia Singer, i-D Global Editorial Director

Whenever I have doubts about this industry, about what it means and why we do it and how its structures can sometimes feel unbreakable, I think about that day in June when Virgil took over Louis Vuitton with a rainbow runway and showed everyone that things could look different. There is nobody else I know who saw the good in things in quite the way that he did, nobody whose wide-eyed optimism was so tangible in their output, and no moment which crystalised possibility quite like it. That day was blazingly hot, and there were hundreds of students from local schools lining the runway alongside what felt like every celebrity in the world, and in that moment it felt like fashion – and thus the many worlds it touches – had changed forever. V, with his boundless, infectious positivity, and his relentless drive to change the game, had finally got everyone to sit down and pay attention to his way of doing things: with open arms, open doors, and ceaseless compassion. I sometimes used to ask him how he did it, how he’d manage to overlook the barbed commentaries that too often awaited him, or the Instagram comments, or whatever else, and he always told me – like he told everyone a thousand times over – that it paled in comparison to showing his 17-year-old self, and his 17-year-old selves who live across the world now, that change is possible. In the few years since, he’s proven himself right: he has been a catalyst for change in the most profound way, democratizing this industry through open-source programming; fundraised incredible amounts of money for Black creative scholarships and Chicago safehouses; spotlit and hired women and trans people for his brands, for projects, for shows. He turned up like no-one else I know – and when his health, or the pandemic, made that physically impossible, he’d ask for videos from me of what kids were up to in London so that he could work out how to support them, how to invite them into his world. He always did so without fanfare, without wanting any recognition for the part he played in so many people’s journeys. He just wanted everyone to shine.

Virgil had a special way of operating in this world, as a cheerleader and teacher both in front of and behind the scenes for so many. Over the past day, we’ve seen just a glimpse of how many people he’d directly touched; how many DMs he replied to; how many pathways he laid. None of that scratches the surface of the breadth of his cultural impact. He was staggeringly compassionate, wildly generous, brilliantly funny, and even when it was showtime he would still find time to say sweet things about my cat. He was the best of us, and being in his orbit made me want to be better and do better. He rewrote the rulebook and he opened the doors. What he taught us will live on.

Osman Ahmed, i-D Fashion Features Director

I met Virgil in Paris seven years ago, back when he was in the infancy of making the kind of clothes that could easily be described as quintessentially millennial or digital-friendly with their bold graphics, airport-lounge ease and mismatched references to streetwear and old-school tailoring. That might sound ubiquitous now, but I guess that’s proof of his impact on fashion right there in a nutshell. He was also a DJ, architect, artist, graphic designer, clothing designer, creative director, art director, stylist, filmmaker, photographer… To say he had endless energy and curiosity would be an understatement. He spoke at a million miles a minute, scrolled Instagram even faster, and had a multi-hyphenate approach to creativity — and he was also kind enough to take the time to tell you about it. His energy came from his creativity, and I think that came from being an outsider looking in — like so many of us — at an industry we loved but weren’t necessarily welcomed into. There will always be young kids of colour ready to absorb anything and everything about the things they love. Virgil was the one who made it to the top and opened the door for so many others to join him. 

That was never more clear than at his shows. You only had to look around you to notice people that you didn’t see at any others. They were his people, his community — a style-obsessed generation who love fashion but never saw themselves represented in it. The industry could often be dismissive of it, especially because Virgil was unapologetically Black in his work, which was lost on the usual fashion folk. “Nothing upsets people more than when they don’t understand it,” his friend Benji B once told me. I got the sense that nothing pleased Virgil more than disrupting the status quo. 

So, he set a precedent of how POC folk can move through traditionally White, elitist spaces: by being true to who you are, and by bringing your people with you, as collaborators, models or even just as physical presences in the room. You only have to look at the queues outside Louis Vuitton stores — so many of them comprising young Black men — to see what a catalyst of change Virgil was. He shifted the goalposts of what we can aspire to if we dream big and work hard. ‘Inclusivity’ is a weird word to use in a luxury fashion context, but Virgil led by example and forced the industry to radically rethink its approach. After all, even if you can’t afford a designer handbag, just feeling like you’re able to walk into a luxury store is priceless. 

Yes, he was the first African-American head of Louis Vuitton, and only the second Black artistic director at an LVMH brand ever — but he was also a part of pop culture history, too. “This isn’t Kansas anymore,” he told me after that first show for Louis Vuitton, a turning point in the history of fashion and a metaphor for his own journey down the Yellow Brick Road. “We are now in a new place where the world is different.” That couldn’t be truer today. The world is different because of Virgil. He will be remembered as someone who changed it forever.

Claire Thomson-Jonville, i-D France Editorial Director

Virgil, 

Your kindness, your leadership, your humility, your creative generosity made you a true legend. An inspiration for our generation, and for me personally. It was an honour working so closely with you, I’ll never forget our conversations and how supportive you were. You inspired and motivated me to be better every single time. You changed the world, my friend. You’ll remain in our hearts always and your legacy will live on in all the people you touched. We will miss you so much. 

Claire X

Samuel Ellis Scheinman, i-D Casting Director

I had the immense privilege of collaborating with Virgil first in 2016 and then throughout his tenure at Louis Vuitton.

Standing next to Virgil in the lineup of his first show, a rainbow runway in Palais Royal led by a parade of 17 black men, I recognized that he had offered me a seat at the table in what has become a watershed moment in fashion and culture. As the show started, he told me: “This is it. We’re changing the world.”

Backstage at the filming of Omen Break, his SS22 show for Louis Vuitton, Virgil told me “This feels like the beginning of a new chapter. From here, the level gets higher and higher.” It is surreal to think that was our last face-to-face conversation. His eyes were always firmly fixed on the future.

Virgil was a visionary with so much potential and potency. Being in his orbit was a gift. His trust in his collaborators is unrivaled and is an honor I will always keep with me.

My deepest condolences to his family, his friends and the unquantifiable number of people whose lives Virgil touch, inspired and changed.

Virgil was here and will always be here. Fly high, my friend.

Mahoro Seward, i-D Fashion Features Editor

“While I did not know Virgil personally, I’ve always seen him as a source of admiration and inspiration. A spirit of curiosity, optimism, compassion and kindness radiates from everything that he touched – even from afar, it was clear that he embodied the reformed fashion industry we should all be working towards. That he was a creative genius is a given; more than that, though, he was a rare figure who used his own success as a means to uplift and amplify voices that till then had seldom been heard. He changed the fashion industry irrevocably, making it a better, brighter, more colourful place.” 

Dan Sablon, i-D France Senior Fashion Editor 

I’m amazed how V was able to translate the way he saw the world he lived in in such a bold and optimistic way and yet with such humility and diligence.

He made it okay for everyone that he touched through his art and human values to see and think about their world differently. The great conversations, the fun moments: I will make sure to pass it on to always keep his energy alive. He is one of the Greats.

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Virgil Abloh