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R.I.P. Virgil Abloh

NY Times - Virgil Abloh, the barrier-breaking Black designer whose ascent to the heights of the traditional luxury industry changed what was possible in fashion, died on Sunday in Chicago after a two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer. He was 41.

His death was confirmed by his family.

The artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear as well as the founder of his own brand, Off-White, Mr. Abloh was a prolific collaborator with outside brands from Nike to Evian, and a popular fashion theorist whose expansive and occasionally controversial approach to design inspired comparisons with everyone from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons.

Mr. Abloh transformed not just what consumers wanted to wear, bridging hypebeast culture and the luxury world, but what brands wanted in a designer — and the meaning of “fashion” itself.

All of the cool guys will be quick to say "who"? But the name Virgil Abloh was known far and wide around the world. High fashion, streetwear, music, sneakers, pop culture, the guy was a trendsetter and trailblazer. 

And he was a Chicago guy. Actually, he was a Rockford guy, but he moved to Chicago after school and got to work creating his empire.

To put it in perspective, he was the guy that visionaries like Kanye West and mega brands like Louis Vuitton and Nike looked up to, and entrusted with their brands. Just to name a few.

And he did this all in an extremely limited window of time AND, apparently, all while battling 

My favorite part of Virgil, and his story, was his story. He came from literally nothing and created a pretty incredible life for himself by working his Goddamn ass off.

Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Ill., on Sept. 30, 1980, to Nee and Eunice Abloh, Ghanaian immigrants, and grew up immersed in skate culture and hip-hop.

Though he did not formally study fashion — he studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology — his mother was a seamstress, and she taught him the basics of her trade.

Stories like his are powerful. They show kids from small towns, and meager upbringings, that literally anything is possible.

Virgil was a great role model and prided himself on being a man of many trades.

I met Virgil a while back. He was a big deal in the Chicago fashion world as owner of RSVP Gallery on Damen Ave. A small boutique in the heart of Bucktown that always had everything before everybody else, and stayed way ahead of the curve. He was also a big player in the Chicago party scene as the mind behind the "@Superfun" party that they used to throw at JBar downtown. 

While grinding away drawing designs in hopes to land an internship at Fendi, a young and up-and-coming Kanye West walked into his design studio and the two hit it off.

That relationship set him on the road to Paris when, in 2009, Mr. West signed a deal for a sneaker collaboration with Louis Vuitton, and he and his creative team, including Mr. Abloh, headed off for fashion week and became the talk of the season.

This picture of the crew went super-viral online (and was even satirized on South Park)

“Streetwear wasn’t on anyone’s radar, but the sort of chatter at dinners after shows was like ‘Fashion needs something new. It’s stagnant. What’s the new thing going to be?’ That was the timeline on which I was crafting my ideas,” Mr. Abloh later told GQ. That was also when he and Mr. West began a six-month internship at Fendi, making $500 a month, and learning the business from the inside out.

In 2010 he became creative director of Donda, Mr. West’s creative incubator, helping turn Mr. West’s ideas into actuality (his laptop was described by the rapper Pusha T as “a library of everything that was aesthetically beautiful and relevant”).

He became Kanye's go-to for everything and anything fashion and creative related. He's credited for not only designing several of Kanye's album covers, but also directing his 35-minute short-film-as-music-video (rife with references to visual culture, from performance art to Renaissance painting) made to coincide with the release of the single from West’s 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

He landed the Louis Vuitton job which sent shockwaves through the fashion world. Nike hired him and handed him the keys to design and release his "Off White" line in which Abloh took Nike's most famous shoe models throughout the history of the company, and altered them slightly, adding parts of his personality to them. The brand was, and still is, a smash success.

One of the things people admired most about Abloh was his unwillingness to kowtow to the fashion industry.

Rather than go to the establishment, he understood he could go straight to consumers, and then the establishment would come to him. By 2018, Louis Vuitton had. Not long after, Time magazine named Mr. Abloh one of the most influential people of the year.

Cancer really fucking sucks. 

I'll never understand why some people choose to fight it in private (Chadwick Boseman being another recently) but it's their choice and I respect it. 

Virgil Abloh touched and influenced a lot of lives for the better.

He established the “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, raising $1 million to encourage Black students in fashion.

He is survived by his wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents — and a legacy he identified during his first Louis Vuitton show, held in the gardens of the Palais Royale in front of an audience that included Mr. West, Rihanna and ASAP Rocky, as well as 1,500 students.

“There are people around this room who look like me,” he said to The New York Times. “You never saw that before in fashion. The people have changed, and so fashion had to.” He made it so.

If you need further proof just look at a tad of the outpouring-

Rest in peace.

p.s. - Kevin did a good job summing up his career and how commendable his battle with cancer, in private, was.