In her tribute to the designer, DJ, and artist, Virgil Abloh, who passed away from cancer at the age of 41 on Sunday, November 28, the Washington Post senior critic at large Robin Givhan described Abloh as “a rare bird flying at such heights.” “He didn’t suggest that navigating the fashion system was simple. He never made his success look easy,” she added. “But he made it clear that doing both were humanly possible.” Abloh’s passing has shocked the worlds of fashion, art, music, and filmmaking—a testament to the Louis Vuitton menswear designer’s ability to flit between genres, flouting them while he did so. As the first Black designer at the storied French maison, he was a boundary-breaker—but he was, at his core, respectful of the youth above all else. This outlook informed his work, all of which was totally singular—whether you saw it as obnoxious or visionary, it was always arresting. Much beloved by superstars like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Timothée Chalamet, Abloh’s brand Off-White became a red carpet, high fashion, and commercial success. And under his watch, Louis Vuitton was never the same. Take a look back at the highlights from Abloh’s wide-ranging career, which includes (but is not limited to) designing Hailey Bieber’s wedding dress and creating one of the most sought-after sneakers in Nike’s history.
If there was ever a banner year for Virgil Abloh, it was 2018. While the fashion world, notoriously slow to accept change, had spent the previous 36 months hemming and hawing over whether Abloh was a “real” designer, a streetwear disruptor, or simply a Kanye West-hyped flash in the pan, the Chicago native honed his design skills. Celebrities took notice, calling in Off-White looks for their red carpet appearances left and right; Nicki Minaj wore this look from the fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection at that year’s MTV VMAs.
Abloh’s fall 2018 menswear show—a lineup of Raf Simons-inspired office looks—sparked rumors that the designer might succeed Kim Jones as the creative director for Louis Vuitton’s men’s.
The rumors quickly became the stuff of fashion legend: Virgil Abloh was named the first Black artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton. At his star-studded debut show during Paris Fashion Week, Rihanna wore this iconic all-white look, strapped up with pouches and mini-bags that would sell out faster than Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Supreme. One could also argue that Abloh himself ushered in the mini-bag trend, which is still going strong among brands like Prada two years later.
Virgil Abloh’s longtime supporter, friend, and collaborator Kanye West appeared at the show as well, with his then-wife Kim Kardashian wearing a paratrooper-like mini dress from the collection.
The harness heard ‘round the world: this looked debuted at the spring 2019 menswear show, and was worn on red carpets by the likes of Michael B. Jordan, the late Chadwick Boseman, and Abloh himself.
Lest we not forget, though—Timothée Chalamet (another friend of Abloh’s) wore it first.
This neon and white showstopper became the closing look for Beyoncé’s On the Run II tour–she wore it during her last show in Seattle.
Serena Williams won the U.S. Open in 2018 while wearing two distinct Off-White x Nike looks: this periwinkle athletic dress with a tutu and “Logo” across her chest, and another frock done in black. Both pieces had “Serena” screen-printed on her left forearm.
Among all of Abloh’s many collaborations—in his lifetime, he released lines with with Takashi Murakami, Moncler, Kith, Champion, and more—his most famed work will no doubt be the 61 sneakers he designed with Nike. Abloh applied his Off-White treatment to Air Jordans, Air Force Ones, and even Converse high-tops, creating an unprecedented mania around the Off-White Nike silhouettes.
Leave it to Abloh to make Ikea a style icon. The designer collaborated with the Swedish furniture giant on a line of rugs, bucket hats, doormats, and, pictured here, bags—which became so coveted among the fashion set that the accessories were seen at nearly all the international fashion weeks in 2018.
In her heartfelt post to Virgil Abloh following his passing, Hailey Bieber gave a special shout out to her Internet-breaking Off-White wedding dress, which Abloh designed for her nuptials to Justin Bieber in 2019. “From walking on his runways to having him design my wedding dress and all the other amazing moments in between, I felt he was always rooting for me,” Bieber wrote in her caption of Abloh. “He was someone who always brought life, charisma, love and fun to any situation, and every room he walked into.”
When Bella Hadid opened Off-White’s fall 2021 show in a blue velvet minidress, then closed it in another blue velvet gown riffing on the first look, very few people had any idea Abloh was battling cancer, and had been for the past two years. The only thing on the minds of fashion spectators were the thrilling jewel-toned looks coming down the runway—his love for dressing people of all kinds on full display.