Virgil Abloh, a fashion icon, dies at 41

Virgil Abloh photo courtesy

Virgil Abloh, one of the leading African American voices in the fashion industry, died Sunday. He was 41.

The cause of death was a publicly unknown battle with angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

The fashion icon lived a fulfilling life inspiring the lives of many fashion enthusiasts and others around the world. Most of his monumental accomplishments came during his career with Louis Vuitton and his own personal brand, Off-White.

When he was only 22, he collaborated with the rapper Kanye West on a sneaker for Louis Vuitton and showcased it during New York Fashion Week in the 2000s. Photos from the went viral and sparked an awareness of multiple fashion brands that most were unaware of until these two displayed their artistry together.

His influence allowed the fashion genre known as “Street Wear” to be worn in a variety of settings and breakthrough as elegant, formal and stylish. Street Wear became the new design, despite controversy from other designer brands.

Abloh’s influence was undeniable. He was named one of the most influential people of the year by Time magazine in 2018. His platform also allowed him a $1 million sponsored fundraiser called “Postmodern” for Black students to further their pursuit in fashion.

He told The New York Times, “There are people around this room who look like me. You never saw that before in fashion. The people have changed, and so fashion has too.”

Perry Bishop, 29, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, had the opportunity to come across Abloh and experience his influence at a Notre workshop fashion event held once a month in Chicago prior to the pandemic.

“I saw Virgil at Notre in Chicago for Arthur Kar’s Notre talk event. There were some big names that were there who all came through Chicago in some way, like Don C, Jerry Lorenzo and Ibn Jasper, but the most recognized person there was Virgil. It was surreal to see how Virgil was down to earth and connected with the community. He took time to talk with everybody in the room and take pictures. After the event, the designers walked in a group of people over to Virgil’s Louis Vuitton pop up which had been recently installed down the street from Notre. It was also clear to see how much his peers in the fashion industry and the community embraced him and one of his highest moments of his success,” he said.

Abloh earned a bachelor’s at the University of Wisconsin with a degree in civil engineering and a master’s from the Illinois Institute of Technology in architecture.

Mike Jackson was a classmate of Abloh’s during his early collegiate years at Wisconsin. Jackson took a few classes with him.

“What I can say from firsthand knowledge is the university will be putting plans into place to properly honor his legacy,” Jackson said.

“The university’s thoughtful notion has not yet happened, but many of those who knew of Virgil look forward to the memorial.”

Brandon Williams met Abloh in 2000 and maintained a friendship with him.

“One important part of Virgil’s legacy, among many, will be his focus and concerted effort on breaking down barriers and helping others succeed in reaching their dreams. He believed in working hard and maintaining integrity both personally and through what he presented to the world. One of my favorite quotes from him is, ‘Work ethic is free, spend it all,'” Williams said.