Tributes from the artistic generation that Virgil Abloh championed

As Louis Vuitton presents the late creative polymath's final collection, creatives he platformed share the most important lessons he taught them.

by Mahoro Seward
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20 January 2022, 1:51pm

In all the discussions around the legacy of Virgil Abloh that have proliferated in the month and a half since his sudden, tragic passing, a quality of his that has been repeatedly mentioned is his generosity of spirit. To his friends and collaborators, no ask was ever too much. And rather than prioritise his own advancement, his focus was steadfastly on bringing those that looked and thought like him up onto the platform that he built, recognising that his mission wasn’t one to be carried out alone.

For Virgil, it was never just about scaling the heights of existing cultural infrastructures — rather, he was dedicated to laying the foundations for new ones. Few can attest to this better than the generation of young creatives that Virgil avidly championed: the artists, musicians, designers, and creative visionaries that he threw the full weight of his support behind, motivated solely by a desire to help new minds and voices come into bloom. Though Virgil’s final collection for Louis Vuitton is being presented in Paris today, it is through these people and their work that the warmth, generosity, and wide-eyed curiosity of his spirit and vision will live on. Here, they share the lessons from Virgil that they’ll carry forward.

Virgil Abloh at a runway show in Paris
Photo by SAVIKO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Kandis Williams, artist

When one considers the history of the Negro in America, it is of the greatest importance to recognise that the moral beliefs of a person, or a people, are never really as tenuous as life – which is not moral – very often causes them to appear; these create for them a frame of reference and a necessary hope, the hope being that when life has done its worst they will be enabled to rise above themselves and to triumph over life. Life would scarcely be bearable if this hope did not exist. 

Olympic torch flaming, we burn so sweet 
The thrill of victory, the agony, defeat 
We crush slow, flaming deluxe slow 
For, judgment day cometh, conquer, it's war 
Allow us to escape, hell glow spinning bomb 
Pocket full of shells out the sky, Golden Arms 
Tune spit the shit immortal combat sound 
The fake false step make, the blood stains the ground 
A jungle junkie, vigilante tantrum 
A death kiss, cap off squeeze another anthem 
Hold it for ransom, tranquilised with anesthetics 
My orchestra, graceful, music ballerinas 
My music Sicily, rich California smell 
An axe killer adventure, paint a picture well 
I sing a song from Sing-Sing, sippin' on ginseng 
Righteous wax chaperon, rotating ring king 

In order to show an interrelated and transformable relation among the above yin and yang, an s-shaped line is used to separate the black and white — the yin and yang. It should be pointed out that the graphic diagram is not just two-dimensional. Rather, it is three- or multi-dimensional.

(James Baldwin, Stranger in the Village, 1955. Wu-Tang, Triumph, Verse 4: U-God, 1997.)

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Kerwin Frost, entertainer, designer and DJ

I first got to know Virgil around 2012 or 2013, through Heron Preston, who I worked next to at V-Files. He immediately had this presence, a sense of understanding of everything that was going on. He was like, "You guys are the kids running around SoHo and I completely support what you’re doing," and he was always true to his word. I remember wanting to start my first brand, Spaghetti Boys, and being inspired by the unity and movement of Been Trill – that was always a talking point whenever I spoke to him. That said, I hadn't designed anything before, and I just texted him saying how much I loved Been Trill, and how it would be such a full-circle moment if we could do work on something together. Immediately, he was like, "Let's just do it with Off-White!” Just his capacity to think like that with literally no proof is admirable. He could've been completely wrong, but he would just trust people based on their passion, based on a conversation. That ability to not gatekeep seems like an easy thing, but for the longest time, it felt like older figures were gatekeeping access to get to the next level. Virgil never did that, and time and again, he showed what was possible. 

He was also able to harness so many relationships, and keep them pure and fresh while literally never closing his eyes to take a break from all the madness. It didn't matter if you knew him or didn't, he always made sure you felt included, even at times when you could feel out of place. I remember going to Paris for the first Louis Vuitton show, and he just made it feel like such a warm, comfortable experience, for a bunch of people who had never been to Paris before.

What I'll really carry forward with me is the true magic of collaboration. Virgil really showed what actually working together brings. I think a huge part of our culture needs to look in the mirror and think about how we can actually nurture what we have, and avoid having stories told for us. Thanks to Virgil, we have more access now, to do things we couldn’t do 10 years ago, five years ago.

An image of snow-covered chalets
Photography Tosh Basco. Image courtesy of Tosh Basco

Tosh Basco, performance artist, dancer and photographer

What I learned from Virgil was openness, a radical openness that I didn’t fully comprehend until being in a working space with him and his team. He embodied an enamor with the world that proliferated his career in so many fields that eventually we could see how deeply entangled it all is. What is most moving about this revelation is seeing how many people were connected to him, how the work and the world brought people together.

A man sitting on a chair on the set of the LV Men's AW22 show.
Photography Tosh Basco. Image courtesy of Wu Tsang

Wu Tsang, artist and filmmaker

I got to know Virgil when we made a film together last year for Louis Vuitton Men’s AW21. The thing that feels most special to me about Virgil is that our relationship was nothing special — it was just another beautiful manifestation of how Virgil moved through the world by taking so many people with him. He was supportive, sensitive, and he fought so many battles to protect our creative vision. He changed my life, just like he changed the lives of countless others. I'm forever grateful for those moments of encounter, and I hope we can all carry on his legacy by believing in each other the way he believed in us.”

A screenshot of a Whatsapp chat
Image courtesy of Kai Isaiah Jamal

Kai Isaiah Jamal, poet, activist and model

Virgil taught me how to navigate the industry and the world with love, with kindness as a central point at all times. When being interviewed about my inclusion as the Malcolm X figure in “Peculiar Contrast, Perfect Light” [Louis Vuitton Men’s AW21 show], V recognised, “They’re someone who grew up in a world that, at times, was not always welcoming or kind”, in the same way that he grew up in a world — and was dismantling an industry — that was often at times not kind, supportive and extremely exclusionary. When you are the first — like Virgil was the first Black creative director, and like he allowed me to be the first Black trans model — in opening these doors, we are reminded that there are still systems that keep them shut; people that doubt your radical and revolutionary visions; outdated ideas that create resistance. However, V set the example of removing the ego, creating specifically for yours, being unbothered by those who do not see what you do. To allow it to fuel you and not dishearten you. Our existence is power and when you know that, you don’t need validating externally. Really, every interaction, conversation, message, hug, spud, ‘yea’, ‘it’s lit’, smile was a lesson — that was the most special thing about him.

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Luka Sabbat, model and cultural influencer

To Virgil 

From Luka with love 

Standing up on the couches at Caviar Kaspia shooting the shit. 

The one thing I learned is that the show must go on, and that positivity wins every battle. He never stopped working or creating under any circumstances, and whenever people were being negative, he always responded with love and positivity.

Virgil Abloh and Bogdan Plakov
Image courtesy of Bogdan Plakov

Bogdan “Chilldays” Plakov, photographer

A mentor, a friend, a big brother/father figure to me that changed my life. 

You said time was the most precious thing, yet you were the most generous with it, and shared it with all of us as if it were infinite.

You opened so many doors so wide that no one can close them now. You lead by example with love, patience, understanding, positive energy. You spoke only good about others, and always found time to encourage people — no matter how busy your life was. 

Time zones didn’t exist for you, the planet was your neighborhood. The nights before your shows, you always managed to find this little twist that changed everything in such a strong way.

You were about doing, not talking. And this was the case with your philanthropy too — not only did you donate, you also spent time educating and helping others without showing it to the world! You shed light on important issues and gave a voice to those who needed it.

In the most challenging times, you not only continued to create — you did your best work. 

You changed so many lives for the better and created so many friendships, brought people together so flawlessly. And you remained the most humble and kind person, even when you were on top of the world. 

The thousands of decisions you made daily were never based on ego. 

You taught me how to live life. No one in life has inspired me as much as you — your faith, humbleness, passion, curiosity, braveness, good heart, your family: you.

You are my superhero! I love you so fucking much. And I’ll forever carry you in my heart and mind until we meet again.

Ev Bravado and Virgil Abloh
Image courtesy of Ev Bravado

Ev Bravado, designer

Though my time spent with Virgil was cut way too soon, the most pertinent thing he left me was how to move in grace. Virgil never gave into negative press, “news”, or public opinion. He knew his purpose was greater than the back-and-forth between naysayers or critics. By giving into that energy, he knew he would be depleting his own. I used to reach out to him when I would see these wild and untrue things circling around the media to let him know, if no one else did, that he has people on his side that see right through the media circus. One time, he responded, “I’m built for the storm!”. No matter how people made things out to seem, he would never sway from his mission — the mission being giving a voice and platform to those that didn’t have it, cutting the uphill battle in half or more for others, and most importantly leading with love and being a good person.

Virgil Abloh and Ireti Zaccheaus
Image courtesy of Ireti Zaccheaus 

Ireti Zaccheaus, founder of Street Souk Lagos

The most important lesson I learned from V was to realise that there are no limits. Virgil’s constant pushing of all boundaries made me realise that ANYTHING is possible through hard work and dedication. His ability to bring people together was also so inspiring. He created such a strong community of like-minded individuals, each with the common goal of being better and striving for greatness. He was a great supporter, helping others elevate their potential and putting them in places where they can go even harder. Most importantly, Virgil had fun with everything he did, to the extent that he made all he had accomplished look easy, even though we all know it wasn’t. Virgil showed me that my dreams were valid, and through my interactions with him, I was able to believe in myself. It speaks to another crucial part of Virgil’s legacy, his efforts in highlighting young African creatives. He believed in us and gave us a platform to reach heights we didn’t think existed. 

Virgil Abloh and Unknown T
Image courtesy of Unknown T

Unknown T, musician 

The most important lesson I learned from Virgil is about legacy… You never know what someone is going through behind closed doors and Virgil is a prime example of that. Regardless of his battles, though, he was always positive and uplifting, bringing through the next generation of creatives, models, artists and more. I owe a lot to him and he will be missed, but his legacy lives on.

Virgil Abloh and Zack Bia DJing
Image courtesy of Zack Bia

Zack Bia, DJ

If I had to count the lessons I learned from Virgil there wouldn’t really be a way to quantify it. Whenever I was with Virgil in person, or in communication with him online, maybe even just observing his works or even reading something that somehow related to him, I was learning. He had a way of teaching you without even intentionally doing it — he was an open-source human being. To note some of the few lessons, the first I would like to start with is kindness. Virgil was kind — so much so that it bleeds into the next lesson of being able to contextualise, appreciate and hold to the same regard anything you’re interested in across a wide spectrum. The local skate shop in any city was as important to him as the greatest architectural structure, and the new DJ kid coming up would be as important in his mind as the biggest artist in the world. To him, each served a function in their own individual way but contributed to a social, cultural and human fabric that he could somehow see and also help weave. The last lesson I would like to mention is honoring your ideas. This is a human that quite simply did so much. He squeezed a thousand years out of one life on Earth and that output will outlive us all in history. Luxury design, books, fine art, architecture, music… you name it. Taking an idea from your mind and putting it into actual existence is very powerful. Never lingering too much on perfecting it, but rather following instinct and bringing it to life with intent and appreciation is a truly honorable thing. When Virgil created, he let the life of his work take form by simply bringing it into existence. 

This is an image from my favorite party we ever planned, which was also the last. Months of ideation culminated in one very special night combining friends, food, music. It’s the little decisions with intent behind them that help shape and differentiate one thing from another. This night was emblematic of that — a unique type of gathering only possible with our friends and V at the epicenter of it all.

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Image courtesy of Slawn

Slawn, artist

Virgil was always excited about everything. I didn’t often see him often, but it’s something you could notice just through his texts. His excitement was always something so special about him, and it could be about the littlest of things. I just know he’s responding in CAPS with excitement.

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Photography Jim Joe. Image courtesy of Skinny Macho

Skinny Macho & Sami Janjer, founder of Bone Soda & curator

We’ve never experienced a human to be as optimistic as Virgil — the ultimate path finder for many of us. He broke through and let us all in. 

And for that we are forever grateful.
Forever V.

Virgil Abloh and Lucien Clarke
Photography Alessio Segala. Image courtesy of Lucien Clarke

Lucien Clarke, professional skateboarder, artist, designer and model

There were so many incredible qualities to Virgil, but the main thing was how honest and genuine he was. He was always trying to do the impossible — he looked at the world from the perspective of a kid dreaming of something beyond the realm of possibility. Typically, people don't try to make those dreams happen — they’d rather do the things that are easier and less hassle, but he was always looking to do incredible things that had never been done — or even just to execute the simplest ideas.

When we collaborated for Louis Vuitton, it just started when I spoke to him after his second show. I asked him if he'd be interested in collaborating on more of a personal level, through Off-White and Nike — I was about to be sponsored by Nike at the time — and he was just like, "Why don't we try and do it through Louis Vuitton?” I couldn't believe it! I thought he was just on a hype after his show, but he was deadly serious from the word go.

There are so many things he's taught me, but one of the main things is that you can do what you want to do, and get where you want to get to. You just have to practice, and be disciplined in whatever it is you're doing, and he was also someone who was truly obsessed with what he did — just doing the most every single day. Another crucial thing about Virgil was how brilliant he was a connecting people, getting people together to build something great. In the past, it's something that I've been quite shy of doing myself, but seeing what he was able to do, I want to be able to do that, too.

ALL HAIL VIRGIL ABLOH THE KING.

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Louis Vuitton
Virgil Abloh