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A Trailblazing Designer, Abloh Helped the Next Generation Find its Way in Fashion

·12 min read

Still trying to digest the news of Virgil Abloh’s untimely death, industry executives spoke Monday about barriers he broke, how he uplifted young talent and how he set the template for a new generation of designers.

As reported, the 41-year-old Abloh, founder of Off-White and men’s creative director at Louis Vuitton, died Sunday morning in Chicago after a two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer.

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Industry executives spoke to WWD about Abloh’s impact on the fashion industry and the culture at large, how the boundary-breaking designer helped the next generation of designers find their place and voice in the industry and how he elevated Black culture and talent. Here’s what they had to say.

Ralph Lauren: Virgil Abloh had a unique curiosity and passion that has inspired his life, his creativity, and his dreams. It is a shock when someone so young and with so much promise is suddenly taken from us. My heart goes out to his wife, his children and all his family who he loved so much. Let his belief in how art can change how we live and inspire future generations be a legacy we all commit to and continue in his very special spirit.”

Michael Kors: “Virgil was a true Renaissance man who understood the convergence of culture and fashion in a totally modern way. I remember walking into his store, RSVP Gallery, in Chicago back in 2009. I was not familiar with Virgil, but l immediately fell in love with the energy, the edit and the mix. He saw no boundaries for his creativity. He took streetwear and elevated it to new heights. And he took traditional luxury and glamour and made them truly in tune with our times. I ultimately think calling him a fashion designer is not the most accurate description. I think his talent encompassed far more than fashion.”

Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies and 15 Percent Pledge: “Virgil Abloh was a gift to our creative community. He was a bright light that drew us in and lit the way for many to come behind him. The power of Black vision he gave us transcended industries and will live on eternally in the legions of Black youth he inspired.”

Tommy Hilfiger: “Virgil was a creative genius who brought an unparalleled artistic vision to everything he did. He was an innovator and a disruptor who led a new era with his collaborations in streetwear, luxury fashion, art, music, and more. His biggest impact was on culture — he singlehandedly broke barriers and used his platform to give back to communities, champion up-and-coming creatives, and to build a more inclusive playing field. His trailblazing legacy and accomplishments will always be celebrated and continue to inspire future generations.”

Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the Council of Fashion Designers of America: “Virgil had an unprecedented impact on fashion, the like of which we may never experience again. ‘Disruptive’ is an overused word, but Virgil truly brought a new approach to creativity and to fashion that was, indeed, disruptive. He changed our business for the better. He showed us that to matter in life and work is to be passionate and not be held back by tradition. He was a creator and collaborator. His interests were not limited to fashion, and his cross-discipline approach to design made our culture richer. Streetwear was born in America, and Virgil’s voice amplified this and catapulted it into the global fashion dictionary in ways that had never been done before him. He inspired the most seasoned people in fashion, but his true legacy will reveal itself in the way future generations are motivated to create and work the Virgil way.”

Phillip Lim: “We’ve lost a guardian of culture, fashion and humanity in Virgil Abloh. He stood up, showed up and will forever be a reminder of the powerful change we all have inside us. Consistency in character and commitment to the cause is a lesson we can all take from his passing. Virgil bravely blazed the way for so many in this world and that legacy will never be forgotten. Rest in peace friend.”

Matthew Williams, Givenchy’s creative director: “Virgil was an inspiration to me and to so many, and his commitment to his creative work was unparalleled. He challenged our industry’s standards and paved the way for a generation of new creatives. I feel so fortunate to have been able to share so many moments with him, and I will miss him dearly. Virgil will forever live on through the impact he made and the people he continues to inspire.”

Gabriela Hearst: “I am shocked and saddened by the passing of this genius. My heart goes to his loved ones. As an artist he was prolific and revolutionary. Setting a path of his own. Virgil’s work and legacy inspired so many, he is a legend now and forever.”

Ronnie Fieg, founder, CEO and creative director of Kith: “The man that opened all the doors for all of us to dream bigger. One of the smartest, kindest and purest souls I have ever known.”

Tracy Reese: “Virgil Abloh was a gifted visionary. He opened doors previously closed to so many of us and made luxury fashion much more modern and accessible. Being the first at anything is never easy but Virgil still made a point of lifting others up and making sure they had a place at the table. He will be sorely missed.”

Christopher Bevans: “Virgil’s name will be forever synonymous with Black excellence. He didn’t just show us how, but he open-sourced the cheat codes, if you were paying attention to him through a pure lens. He was someone I called my brother. He was always one of my first check-ins when I embarked on a new creative journey. From Billionaire Boys Club in 2012 to my current role at Shopify. It was creative sessions, but all roads led to ‘how can we present new doors for the culture to kick in?’ He just knew what to say to me to think of design in a meaningful way and purposeful. His kind nature and intelligence were beautiful. I’ll miss him dearly and my heart goes out to his family, wife and kids. Long live the great Virgil Abloh.”

Tory Burch, executive chairman and chief creative officer of Tory Burch: “Virgil was a unique, creative genius and a true entrepreneur. He revolutionized American streetwear and made it exciting on a global stage. He was an inspiration to all with a kind and generous spirit and ambition to pave the way for others.”

Diane von Furstenberg: “It’s very sad. He was so young and successful and precise and inspiring. He stood for so much and so many people. He had a major impact and would have had so much more. Even in a very short life, he will have meant something. He will have left a legacy. He was such a serious person. Now that we know that he was ill, his eyes looked so sad. Fashion is a reflection of our times and he was totally a reflection of our time. He had the zeitgeist of our time.”

Julie Gilhart, chief development officer of Tomorrow Ltd., president of Tomorrow Projects: “The loss of Virgil Abloh has left a gaping, seemingly un-fillable hole in our culture and fashion industry. Yet another reminder of how fragile and impermanent things are. While we try our best to move forward without his guidance and always brilliant ideas, I am confident that we will continue to see the fruits of his contributions to fashion and culture for the rest of our time here on Earth. Virgil’s legacy will serve as an eternal guide for our next generation of youth through his ability to show us how to marry innovation and inclusivity, the way he single-handedly redefined streetwear, and his enduring mission to pave a way for creatives from all walks of life to follow in his footsteps. He was a beloved leader and role model to all, and gave us hope that a big dream can actually come true even if it’s against all odds. We will never quite get over the pain of him leaving us too soon.”

Ivan Bart, president of IMG Models and Fashion: “It’s beyond imaginable when our youngest, brightest and most talented leave us. Virgil inspired us all to work hard, push boundaries and defy expectations. A true trailblazer who inspired a new generation and showed us the power of Black voices in luxury, Virgil accomplished more in his years than many would in two lifetimes. His legacy will be referenced for years to come and will continue to live on in culture. Rest in peace, Virgil.”

Virgil Abloh and Kanye West - Credit: Dominique Maitre/WWD
Virgil Abloh and Kanye West - Credit: Dominique Maitre/WWD

Dominique Maitre/WWD

Peter Arnold, Fashion Scholarship Fund: “Today is a very sad day for me and for the Fashion Scholarship Fund. Virgil came to us two years ago to establish his Post-Modern Scholarship Fund to benefit Black students. It was his dream to identify, connect with and support, as he often said, the ’17-year old version of himself.’ At a time when so many in our industry are talking about equality, and how and where to find underrepresented talent, Virgil was doing it. His partnership with us was a powerful and meaningful one. Virgil was a high-flying multihyphenate with a punishing schedule — yet, in our many meetings and Zooms with the students that he was supporting, he never wanted the sessions or the conversations to end. He just wanted to keep hearing from kids — share one more thought, show me one more thing you are making, give me one more suggestion of who you are listening to — he never stopped connecting with and uplifting young talent.

I am forever grateful for what I now, heartbreakingly, realize was his intended legacy. Out there, still, are so many young Virgils who deserve the chance and ‘way in’ he was committed to providing. It will be my aim to honor him by continuing his good work every day — moving somebody forward, making an introduction, being a mentor or simply providing encouragement — in the name of Virgil Abloh.”

Everard Best, or Ev Bravado, Who Decides War: “Virgil is still a beacon of light to those the odds are stacked up against. V [Virgil] was one of a kind; we were lucky to see this level of output and creative genius in this lifetime. I am honored to call him a mentor, friend, and big brother. No matter where he was in the world or what he was working on, he always answered my calls and made time. I don’t know how he did it. He genuinely cared and his heart knew no bounds when it came to his family and friends. For creating space for young talent where there wasn’t before, time and time again. There wasn’t one door that he knocked down that he didn’t make sure was wide open for the budding creatives coming up behind him. We would laugh at media critiques because we knew the true extent of selflessness Virgil possesses, and were lucky enough to experience it firsthand. ‘No’ wasn’t a part of his vernacular, rather, push harder or develop this further. I am grateful to have known him and to be taken under his wing, to design alongside him and learn how to move with grace from the ultimate taste maker of our time. There will never be another.”

Virgil Abloh - Credit: Andrew Boyle for Footwear News
Virgil Abloh - Credit: Andrew Boyle for Footwear News

Andrew Boyle for Footwear News

Henrik Most, product and design leader at Ikea of Sweden AB : “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our collaborator and dear friend Virgil Abloh. Virgil Abloh was a truly unique designer and artist. And with an enormous intellectual capacity and humanistic heart. For him it was important that design made a difference in young people’s lives. It should be both functional as well as have the emotional connection that reasoned with what young people dream of for their homes. In that aspect, he became a spokesperson for a young generation, he communicated with them through his work and understood their needs. To work together with Virgil Abloh was always very inspiring. We had long conversations about design, art, fashion and the need of aesthetic beauty in life. He encouraged people around him to always strive for the best and never compromise on the ambitions to create meaningful design. He shared our view that design should be accessible to the many, regardless of income or social status. At Ikea, we feel blessed and thankful to have had the privilege to know and work with him. We will forever remember Virgil Abloh as the true visionary, professional, creative mind and artist he was. Our thoughts and most sincere condolences go to his beloved family, colleagues and everyone who called him a friend.”

Sir Jony Ive, chancellor of The Royal College of Art: “He was a brilliant and passionate creative who was unfailingly curious and optimistic. As a master of his craft, he shared his experience and expertise with a wonderful generosity and kindness that made him a remarkable teacher. Virgil’s legacy will continue to have a positive impact on future generations of creative individuals. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this time.”

The Royal College of Art: “It is with great sadness that the Royal College of Art has learned of the death of Virgil Abloh. Virgil was an incredible ambassador for the RCA. The College is honored to have had Virgil join our community as a Visiting Professor, as a champion for the importance of education and equality of opportunity in creative industries.”

Bethann Hardison: “Virgil Abloh was an inspiration for me to guide a group of Black designers in 2018, that later became known as the Designers Hub. Tired of hearing people ask, ‘Where are the Black designers?’ I would respond, ‘They may not be all Virgil Abloh, but they do exist.’ Virgil set the bar by bringing engineering and fashion together. We will miss him greatly.”

With contributions from Samantha Conti, Miles Socha and Rosemary Feitelberg


Virgil Abloh Writes New Chapter at Louis Vuitton

WWD Newsmaker of the Year: Virgil Abloh

Off-White’s Virgil Abloh Is Streetwear’s New Star

LVMH Widens Virgil Abloh’s Role Beyond Fashion

Virgil Abloh Dies of Cancer at 41

Virgil Abloh’s Most Memorable Quotes

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