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Virgil Abloh, trailblazing Louis Vuitton director, dies after private cancer battle at 41

·5 min read

Virgil Abloh, the artistic director for Louis Vuitton menswear and the founder and CEO of fashion house Off-White, has died after a private battle with a "rare, aggressive form of cancer," according to social-media posts from the brands. He was 41.

Abloh, a fashion trailblazer and frequent celebrity collaborator, died Sunday after fighting cardiac angiosarcoma, which blocks blood flow to the heart, according to a post shared to his verified Instagram account. Louis Vuitton and Off-White also confirmed his death on their accounts.

"He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture," Abloh's Instagram read.

He was a pioneer in the fashion world, serving as the first Black artistic director to lead Louis Vuitton menswear, just one of two people of color in charge of a major fashion house (along with Balmain's Olivier Rousteing) at the time of his appointment in 2018. The same year, he was named a Time 100 Most Influential People honoree.

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"Part of my equation is to inspire the next generation and to help them think outside the box," Abloh told Interview magazine in 2018. "When I was growing up, I didn’t know that I could be showing in Paris, because I didn’t see anyone doing that who looked like me. Even when I just walked into a luxury store, people would look at me like I didn’t belong there."

"Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered," the post on his Instagram account read. "Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, 'Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,' believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations."

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Born in Illinois to Ghanaian immigrant parents, Abloh went on to get a civil engineering degree from University of Wisconsin–Madison and a masters in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, the latter of which also sparked his interest in the fashion industry. He would go on to intern at Fendi with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, which sparked a longtime collaboration with the rapper.

Abloh was behind several of Ye's notable album covers, including 2010's "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," 2011's "Watch the Throne" with Jay-Z and 2013's "Yeezus." The rapper was in attendance for Abloh's first Louis Vuitton show at Paris Fashion Week in 2019, where the two were photographed warmly embracing afterward.

His work with Ye served as a blueprint for future border-crossing collaborations that married high and low. With Nike, he partnered his Off-White label for a line of frenzy-inducing sneakers remixed with a variety of styles and Helvetica fonts. Abloh also designed furniture for IKEA, refillable bottles for Evian and Big Mac cartons for McDonald's. His work was exhibited at the Louvre, the Gagosian and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

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Breakout designer Virgil Abloh, right, poses with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West at the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2019 show as part of Paris Fashion Week.
Breakout designer Virgil Abloh, right, poses with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West at the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2019 show as part of Paris Fashion Week.

Abloh, who moonlighted as a DJ, often stressed how vital music was to his creative process.

"I can’t work in my studio without music. I don’t like silence," he told Interview. "I’m listening to John Coltrane. I’m listening to Miles Davis. But I’m also listening to whatever new rap is coming out that week. I have teams in Milan, Italy, London and America, so as long as I have a fully charged iPhone, I feel like I can change the world."

As a DJ, Abloh gained wide recognition. He played international gigs including at the nightclub Hï Ibiza in Spain, was booked for 2019's Tomorrowland music festival in Germany and held a DJ residency at Wynn Las Vegas's XS Nightclub that same year.

Abloh made several recent public appearances, including at the Met Gala in September and the Fashion Trust Arabia Prize Gala on Nov. 3.

In 2018, as Abloh prepared for his debut menswear show, he told GQ, "I now have a platform to change the industry."

"We’re designers, so we can start a trend, we can highlight issues, we can make a lot of people focus on something or we can cause a lot of people to focus on ourselves," Abloh said. "I’m not interested in (the latter). I’m interested in using my platform as one of a very small group of African-American males to design a house, to sort of show people in a poetic way.

He is survived by his wife, Shannon Abloh; his children, Lowe and Grey Abloh; his sister, Edwina Abloh; his parents, Nee and Eunice Abloh, and "numerous dear friends and colleagues," according to his Instagram account.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Virgil Abloh dies: Louis Vuitton director, Off-White CEO fought cancer

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