Virgil Abloh, founder of pioneering Off-White who became Louis Vuitton’s first black artistic director, dies at 41

CHICAGO – Virgil Abloh, a Chicago designer who built his love for streetwear, engineering and architecture into a global brand, and became one of the only African Americans to run a luxury French fashion house , died on Sunday. He was 41 years old.

LVMH, the parent company of Louis Vuitton and Off-White – brands run or founded by Abloh – announced his death on Sunday afternoon, saying in a statement the designer has been privately battling cancer for the past few years.

“We are all shocked after this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom, ”said Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH. “The LVMH family joins me in this moment of great sadness, and we all think of those close to them after the death of their husband, father, brother or friend.”

Born in Rockford to Ghanaian immigrant parents, Abloh received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, followed by a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Abloh has worked closely with Kanye West. The couple met at a Chicago printing house and interned in the same class at Italian fashion house Fendi in 2009. The following year, Abloh became creative director of West’s design agency, Donda. , according to Vogue.

Abloh’s artistic partnerships with West led him to launch Off-White, a Milan-based streetwear brand known for deconstructing fashion by labeling it. He founded Off-White in 2012 and entered women’s fashion in 2014, showcasing both his men’s and women’s collection at Paris Fashion Week.

The Off-White brand continued to grow over the next few years, launching stores in Japan and New York, and a furniture collection in Milan. Abloh’s other partnerships included Nike, in which he recreated 10 iconic sneaker designs; and IKEA, where he created another line of furniture.

His multifaceted work formed the basis for an exhibition in 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

RELATED: Nike and Artist Virgil Abloh Bring New Workshop to Michigan Avenue – With Free Lessons for City Youth

Abloh joined Louis Vuitton in 2018 to lead his menswear collection, making him the third African-American designer to serve as artistic director at a luxury French fashion house. His arrival at Louis Vuitton marks a turning point in the fusion of haute couture and streetwear.

Managing Louis Vuitton was also a turning point in his career. He told Naomi Campbell shortly after his appointment that some of his first sparks of design inspiration came from visiting the Louis Vuitton store on Michigan Avenue.

Among the many celebrities he’s designed for include Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, who sported his look before launching his first men’s line at Louis Vuitton; BTS, whom Abloh recruited as ambassadors for the Louis Vuitton brand and who modeled his derivative collection; Serena Williams, who wore her appearance on court; Hailey Bieber, who credited the designer with choosing her on shows and filming, and wore a wedding dress designed by Abloh; and Gigi and Bella Hadid, who paraded in his shows.

Musicians and celebrities including Drake, Pharrell Williams, Lenny Kravitz, Victoria Beckham and Kourtney Kardashian have posted tributes on social media.

Abloh has remained on the cutting edge of fashion even while undergoing treatments from 2019 for cardiac angiosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer, according to an Instagram post on his page.

“Virgil was motivated by his dedication to his craft and his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design,” the post said. “He would often say, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ deeply believing in the power of art to inspire future generations.

Abloh has long kept a home in Lincoln Park, despite his fashion empire that took him to catwalks around the world.

He remained active in Chicago’s creative circles, helping to guide young people. He designed the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center c / o Virgil Abloh in 2019, which in part served as home to a mentorship program for 10 Chicago-area young adults for an eight-week experience with Abloh and the mentors. that he selected. At the end of last year, he helped run a skateboarding program for children on the West Side.

He is survived by his wife, two children, his parents and his sister.

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