We lost another one of our Black Superheroes this past weekend. On Sunday (Nov. 28), shockwaves were sent throughout the world when LVMH, Off White, and his personal Instagram accounts jointly spread the devastating news that creative visionary Virgil Abloh passed away due to a rare form of heart cancer that he had been battling silently since 2019. Immediately I was reminded of the tragic loss of actor Chadwick Boseman who also battled a severe cancer diagnosis and remissions, silently, humbly, and graciously — all while being at the top of their respective work industries.
Virgil’s impact on the fashion industry is immeasurable with his many achievements but the main thing I want to touch on was his kindness and pay it forward mentality. It is his greatest legacy in my opinion.
A genial, abled, everyday kind of man, he made the impossible seem possible! All the while doing it with a smile on his face and the ideology that you can too! This ethos permeated through every industry he chose to delve into, and he chose many: fashion, art, culture, music, wine & spirits, to name a few. His influence and touch were far and wide, yet if you ask any one of his collaborators and peers, they constantly speak of his character and kindness when describing him. I’ve personally spoken with him many times in passing and he always had a curiosity about him. He was never closed off to any idea and was always forward-thinking. These attributes would serve him immensely well in his career.
His curious nature, however, would naturally lead him into fashion. He started his first fashion brand, Pyrex Vision, in 2012 by purchasing deadstock Ralph Lauren flannels shirts, and then screen printing “PYREX” or the number 23 in homage to hometown hero Michael Jordan on the back. Retailing at around $500, these shirts, while wildly popular, also received their share of criticism. Criticism and sometimes even ridicule would be no stranger to Virgil throughout his career, but the one constant was his will to move on to the next idea graciously. And that he did!
Next came Off-White which he started in 2013 after closing down Pyrex Vision. Off White was described from inception as a multi-platform creative endeavor based in Milan with fashion as its main medium. Ambitious as he was, he began showing Off White men’s and women’s collections during Paris Fashion Week adopting quotation marks as his signature.
During this time, his many creative pursuits never ceased, with him working on collaborations with many diverse brands and institutions alike. Warby Parker, Jacob the Jeweler, Jimmy Choo, Nike, Ikea, and The Gagosian Gallery were just a few of the names he partnered with while deejaying and still retaining his role as creative director at Donda. Following these successful collaborations, his highest calling came next. In early 2018, it was announced that Virgil was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton, the first Black designer to helm that title in the brand’s 167-year old existence.
Never one to rest on his laurels, he immediately went to work ushering in his world of inclusivity and curiosity to the storied French fashion house. Look no further than his debut runway show titled “We Are The World” on June 21, 2018. The model lineup was full of global friends, ranging from American artists Kid Cudi and Playboi Carti to UK skateboard legend Lucien Clarke and designer Blondey. But it didn’t end there, the audience invited was also full of his peers and creatives alike. Peers he had designed with, influencers he gave opportunities to, old friends and new friends all there to celebrate this monumental moment! A moment so big that it bought close friend and collaborator Kanye West to tears when they embraced. We had arrived! The dream had been realized, and in so, we could do it too!
With that show, Virgil declared, from the highest fashion mountaintop, that this wasn’t his appointment alone; it was OUR appointment. We saw ourselves in him, Black creatives, that is, and not only in the model lineup, but in the design team that he would bring to Louis in the ad campaigns and at the activations. The doors were truly opening and he carried out this ethos season after season until his very last breath!
So yes! We will remember him for his genre-breaking, multi-hyphenate achievements, but most of all, let us remember him for his kindness and inclusive ways. Let us remember and follow his lead with how he made the fashion industry, a notoriously closed-off industry, a lot more accessible to youth and adults alike. “You can do it too!” is the message Virgil posted after his first runway show back in 2018, and because of his example and the way he lived his life, many of us have and so many more will!
You’ve done well Virgil. Rest In Peace, King!
Until next time!
At the time of his death, Virgil was set to present his S/S 2022 collection in Miami during Art Basel. The presentation will take place on November 30th at 5:30 pm EST.