Virgil Abloh, the designer who set out to disrupt fashion and reached some of its highest peaks in the process, has passed away at the age of 41. According to a statement released by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, Abloh had been privately battling cancer for years, a fact not publicly known. Coming to prominence thanks to his close working relationship with Kanye West, whom he met when they both had internships at Fendi in 2009, Abloh founded his own Milan-based label, Off-White, and in 2018 was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. He remains one of the few Black designers to ever occupy the top position at a major Parisian fashion house.
“We are all shocked after this terrible news,” said LVMH chief Bernard Arnault in a statement. “Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom. The LVMH family joins me in this moment of great sorrow, and we are all thinking of his loved ones after the passing of their husband, their father, their brother or their friend.”
Abloh is survived by his wife and high school sweetheart, Shannon Abloh, and their two children.
Born in Rockford, Illinois to parents who immigrated from Ghana, Abloh originally studied civil engineering and architecture, but developed an interest in fashion during grad school. He eventually landed an internship at Fendi where West, who had taken a step back from his rap career at the time, was also interning. The two struck up a close creative bond. Abloh served for a time as the creative director of West’s DONDA, and provided art direction for West’s album with Jay Z, Watch The Throne. He launched his first fashion and design label Pyrex Vision in 2012 as an artistic exercise, but Pyrex was quickly subsumed by his more commercial label, Off-White. Abloh became an LVMH Prize finalist, and his runways regularly included supermodels like Bella and Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Karlie Kloss, and Naomi Campbell.
When Abloh was tapped to take over Louis Vuitton menswear in 2018, it wasn’t without consternation among certain fashion circles. He was seen as an avatar of streetwear, but his time at Vuitton saw both commercial and growing critical success.
His many designs pierced pop culture’s consciousness—including Hailey Bieber’s wedding dress, Timothée Chalamet’s red carpet “harness,” and many notable on-court outfits for Serena Williams. The distinctive orange zip-ties that adorn his sneakers for Off-White and those made in collaboration with Nike, Off-White’s signature yellow industrial web belt, and his frequent use of quotation marks in his designs have all become era-defining markers of recent fashion.
Abloh was also known for his frequent collaborations with creatives, artists, and brands. IKEA, Jenny Holzer, Takashi Murakami, Rimowa, Pioneer, and Mercedes-Benz were just some of his varied list of collaborators.