The rise of Virgil Abloh was swift, and in many ways surreal—a word the late creative used in reference to more than one collection of the label he founded, Off-White. Also the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, the Ghanian-American designer’s death on Sunday at age 41 following an intensely private battle with cancer shocked friends and fans alike, prompting countless tributes to the man who broke new ground for not only himself but other Black creatives in the fashion industry.
Among them was close friend and longtime collaborator Kanye “Ye” West, who honored Abloh during his live-streamed November 28th “Sunday Service.” As the performance came to a close, a message appeared onscreen dedicating the performance to the late designer: “In loving memory of Virgil Abloh, the creative director of Donda.”
The history of Abloh and West is the stuff of legend, starting in their joint hometown of Chicago nearly two decades ago. Their collaborative work continued through a 2009 joint internship at Fendi and the launch of Ye’s first label Pastelle, followed by Abloh’s Pyrex Vision (later Off-White), and the subsequent launch of Yeezy, for which Abloh was the first designer. Abloh was also the visionary behind the design of several of the rapper’s best-known album covers (among many others), which were included in Abloh’s first museum exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2019.
That same year, Abloh debuted his first collection for Louis Vuitton menswear—with Ye in the front row. Sadly, we now know 2019 was the same year Abloh received what would become a terminal cancer diagnosis.
“One of my best friends was crowned king. Virgil. Louis Vuitton,” West told Wall Street Journal magazine in 2020 of Abloh’s remarkable rise. “We grew up on Louis Vuitton...My best friend.”
Of course, Ye was far from the only musician to collaborate with and share a deep kinship with Abloh, who was also a well-known music lover and DJ. Drake also paid tribute to his departed friend, captioning a post on Instagram: “My plan is to touch the sky 1000 more times for you…love you eternally brother 🕊thank you for everything.”
Multi-hyphenate Pharrell shared his grief over Abloh’s passing, writing on Instagram: “My heart is broken...Virgil you were a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius...your work as a human and your work as a spiritual being will live forever...you’re with the Master now, shine...🙏🏾, P”
“THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU HAVE DONE FOR OUR CULTURE AND COMMUNITY,” wrote rapper Offset in an all-caps post featuring footage of Abloh personally signing an Off-White x Nike sneaker in his honor. “AS A BLACK MAN U CHANGED THE GAME IN DESIGN & FASHION YOU BELIEVED IN OUR YOUTH RIP @virgilabloh “YOU ARE THE CULTURE”
“The teachable lesson here is disrupt,” wrote Questlove in an online tribute to Abloh. “Provoke. Be controversial. Push buttons. Be a conversation piece….live as a true artist. No matter what your thoughts were —-about his work/life, [whether] you slept in line for off white…..or you snarked comments—-the true sign of an artist is all these things. Virgil Abloh was art.”
“This is a devastating loss to culture and fashion,” Tracee Ellis Ross simply stated on Instagram. “What an inspiration and a creative force.”
As one of Chicago’s proudest exports, the city Abloh loved and frequently returned to—and ultimately chose to end his life in—also mourned “the loss of a legend.” Through its official Twitter account, the city recognized Abloh’s groundbreaking influence upon culture and inclusion in the fashion and creative industries.
“He used his genius to make a lane for a new generation of creatives,” read an additional post. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and all he inspired. Rest in power.”
Several of Abloh’s contemporaries publicly mourned his passing and celebrated his influence—including Pyer Moss founder and Creative Director Kerby Jean-Raymond, Balmain Creative Director Olivier Rousteing and Abloh protégé Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall*, who simply published a black box accompanied by a broken heart emoji on Sunday.
“The first. The best. The master. The rubric,” Jean-Raymond captioned a post on Instagram, adding: “He held the flashlight. He unlocked new worlds. He was impeccable with his word and generous with his time. An incredibly kind genius. Nothing will ever be the same. Thank you forever V. 🖤”
Rousteing paid emotional tributes to his late friend in a series of Instagram posts, writing:
I can’t believe it, I am in shock. I knew you for twelve years even before me being creative director at Balmain. You always brought so much love , lights and talent to this world. You are definitely part of legends of our generation. You will stay forever in our heart and in the history of Fashion for your talent , your vision and your kindness.
R.I.P genius 🖤 #virgilabloh
In a subsequent post, Rousteing added:
U made dream an entire world , you brought lights to entire generations. By your art , your vision , your W O R D S, you made it clear that everything is possible. I remember us in Paris dreaming of fashion even before that everything started for us. Sending my prayers to your family.
R I P V I R G I L 🖤 u will stay F O R E V E R
Vogue magazine, one of Abloh’s early champions, honored the designer’s indelible influence while also recognizing his boundless ambition. A posting from its official Instagram account read:
Virgil Abloh will be remembered as one of the most popular and influential fashion designers of his era...Abloh’s ascent from show-crashing fashion tourist in 2009 to the very apex of the global luxury industry at the time of his passing is arguably the defining fashion story of the 2010s. Abloh was the seminal boundary breaker in a notoriously bordered business. His influence, however, will also be remembered well beyond fashion.
That influence included multiple collaborations with partner Nike—including a 2018 capsule collection with Serena Williams. The athleticwear giant posted its own tribute to Abloh, expressing heartbreak over his unexpected death.
We are heartbroken by the news of Virgil Abloh’s passing. Since 2016, Virgil has been a beloved member of the Nike, Jordan and Converse family. He was a creative force who shared a passion for challenging the status quo, pushing forward a new vision while inspiring multiple generations along the way. But more than a collaborator, colleague and prolific creative, Virgil was a husband, father, son, brother and friend. We are proud to call him family. We offer our condolences to the many who shared a connection. He will be greatly missed.
While Abloh has departed the physical plane, his creative legacy continues—in fact, Louis Vuitton will stage what will reportedly be the designer’s final presentation on Tuesday, November 30 in Miami.
“Virgil was here,” read an announcement post on Instagram, featuring footage of a Black child biking through the coastal city in search of a red hot air balloon emblazoned with Vuitton’s logo, which he then embarks and ascends in. “In loving memory of Virgil Abloh, Louis Vuitton pays tribute to the life and legacy of a creative genius with a presentation of his Spring-Summer 2022 Collection in Miami on November 30th at 5:30 pm (ET).”
“It is with profound sorrow that I learned of the passing of Virgil Abloh,” read an additional statement by Louis Vuitton Chairman and CEO Michael Burke. “Virgil was not only a friend, great collaborator, creative genius, visionary and disruptor, but also one of the best cultural communicators of our times. He paved the way for future generations. As a devoted supporter of his community through his charities and passions, he was an eternal optimist who believed anything was possible.
“In this same spirit, we at Louis Vuitton will proudly continue to celebrate his legacy with a final show in Miami, per his wishes,” Burke further explained. “I am honored to have called him my friend. My deepest thoughts are with his wife, children, parents, family and the entire community that was touched by his greatness.”