Virgil Abloh: A Life and Legacy
Virgil Abloh, a man who helped influence the way we see modern day art. A man who helped innovate every medium he worked on whether it’d be music, fashion, art. He was what you can call a renaissance man. Recently Abloh has tragically passed, but I feel it’s important to know how important his work was towards today’s pop culture. So join me as we look through the life and legacy of Virgil Abloh.
Virgil Abloh grew up in Illinois, outside of Chicago. Raised by immigrant parents, he appreciated the hard work they put into letting him live the life he does in America. So he studied architecture to make his family proud. While studying, he was fascinated by his fathers graffiti books and soul records. He would take shopping trips to New York City, discovered streetwear, and eventually started blogging about what was trending in skate clothing.
Abloh then started working on creating t-shirts just as he did buildings, starting a t-shirt business called Forthome in Chicago. Abloh was looking to expand his knowledge on architecture to help with his exploration into the fashion industry, so his professor introduced him to 3d programming and Adobe Suite. This helped build Abloh’s skill in fashion as he started making more t-shirts than working in architecture. Abloh worked at a t-shirt store called Custom Kings.
One day, Abloh met a man named Don-C who worked with a very famous rapper; Abloh was then tasked to make a couple of ideas that he had. This one interaction would lead Abloh to meeting Kanye West, and Abloh was immediately hired, and West entrusted Abloh to support his artistic vision. This would lead to a partnership that would cause a shift in the tide for art in many years to come.
Changing The Culture With Kanye West
In 2007, Virgil Abloh was hired by Kanye West to help him create his creative ambitions. In June 2008, West and Abloh went to fashion week in Paris; they were hit with wonderful reception towards their appearance. This would be their introduction into the luxurious fashion world and would lead to Abloh and West expanding their creative knowledge while trying to convey it to a new audience. Abloh had a hand in the artistic direction for West’s albums, 808s & Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
As the years moved on, it became evident how much responsibility Abloh and West had amongst the culture they were helping expand. They were helping revolutionize not just the music, but the art. Their venture led them to fashion as they decided to meet with a professor of fashion, Louise Wilson, while doing an internship for Fendi. During this period, another work of art was being performed. Throughout the duration of working on helping construct the art for the album, Abloh hunkered down within rooms and studios with his computer research. In Pusha T’s own words, “Here’s this guy always in the studio, and he’s pulling every reference under the sun from his computer – architecture, fashion.”
The Head of Donda
In 2010, Virgil Abloh was tasked with being the head of Kanye West’s creative agency, Donda. To West, Abloh was seen as the one who put his visions into reality; in West’s words Virgil was the “strategist.” Thanks to Abloh’s creativity helping West and being the artistic director for West & Jay-Z’s 2011 album, Watch The Throne, Abloh was able to earn a Grammy nomination.
To Abloh, Watch The Throne wasn’t just an album about the success and luxurious lifestyle that his contemporaries live, but an album for the youth. This idea helped expand their audience and welcomed younger people to hang with them; in a sense, they saw it as building a community. This sense of unity would truly be built in Abloh’s next venture.
Pyrex to Off White
In 2012, Abloh started his first solo creative venture with Pyrex Vision, while residing in New York. It gained traction very quickly,growing an audience within the underground of street wear. As its audience was expanding, Kanye West even wore some Pyrex at his shows. For Virgil, it was seen as an art project, being the test run for his real creative vision. Later on in the year he started his brand Off White.
The design of Off White was mainly focusing on black and white stripes in their clothing. It gained a very large audience thanks to the likes of Drake, Kendall Jenner, A$AP Rocky, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé wearing his clothes. As the popularity was rising, Off White’s next mission was to do a business venture with Nike. Abloh was tasked with redesigning 10 classic shoes for Nike. For Abloh, this was potential “career suicide;” a risky partnership that could have led to Off White receiving public scrutiny, due to the high standards of their original audience. The launch turned out to be a massive success and was a gateway for Abloh to achieve higher status within the fashion industry.
Leader of Louis Vuitton
2018 for Abloh can be seen as a culmination of all his hard work, as well as the beginning of a new era within his art, as he was appointed creative director of the legendary fashion company, Louis Vuitton. Abloh shocked the world after being chosen. Many saw this as a new era for fashion, including Abloh, as he broke barriers in a mostly White-uropean dominated industry. Abloh knew that his placement meant that he had to create change within the company and that he had to modernize it.
Abloh went right into work as he started collaborations with Takashi Murakami in 2017, and Tomoaki Nagao (aka Nigo), founder of BAPE in 2020. He had musicians like Playboi Carti, Kid Cudi, Steve Lacy walk on his runway. In the summer of 2019, he returned to Chicago for an exhibit in the Museum of Contemporary Art. As Abloh wanted people from different backgrounds to attend, he gave all participants free admission to the exhibit.
Abloh expanded his audience with his Off White Women’s Wear show, a show in Japan, and last year he started a charity called the :PostModern Scholarship Fund,” where they support Black-owned businesses. Watching how Abloh created a massive widespread audience around the world, but still reached out to help those in need, really showed how he set a standard for inclusiveness in business.
Legacy of Virgil Abloh
On Nov. 28, 2021, Virgil Abloh passed away after a long battle with cardiac angiosarcoma. He was able to accomplish so much within such a young age, as his contributions helped inspire many and leave a doorway open for an entire new generation of artists. Abloh’s last fashion show was on Nov. 30, 2021. Many of his peers were seen at the show such as Kanye West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Pharrell Williams, Erykah Badu, and more. All came to pay their respects towards Abloh by enjoying the show or walking the runway. A giant statue of Abloh stood tall, immortalizing the late artist.
Earlier this week was Abloh’s memorial, and the names in attendance really showed the cultural impact he had on many: Kanye West, Tyler, The Creator, Drake, Kim Jones, Takashi Murakami, and many more were present. Abloh’s passing truly showed the effect he had amongst pop culture, and showed us that he really did accomplish his mission. He wanted to push the boundaries of what can be perceived as art, he wanted to innovate, and make sure that no matter who you are. That you can achieve success in anything you dream of no matter how much criticism, how big the odds are, or how different the world you’re venturing into is.
If you have ambition, you can accomplish your dreams, and create something that’ll be remembered for generations to come. Pushing the culture and changing how we perceive art, Abloh shall be remembered as a revolutionary. His influence and hand in the creation of many pieces of art has helped push how we can express ourselves.
Abloh once said, “Everything I do is for the 17 year old version of myself,” but it wasn’t just for him, it was for us too. He never let his ambition become stopped by doubts; he continued the dream he had when he was young, and even in his passing he still will continue to inspire a whole new generation of artists. If there’s one thing you should learn from him, it’s that you continue to follow your dreams. Lead and become the next artist, change what is already known. Everything you do will have an effect in history, expand your mind, and never stop dreaming!