Virgil Abloh’s Legacy

Virgil Abloh at Columbia GSAPP – Via Wikimedia

Virgil Abloh was a conspicuous symbol in a dated and orthodox industry, changing the perception of fashion and art as a whole. His stimulating yet controversial designs drew comparisons with the likes of Andy Warhol and other creative minds. Despite his death at 41 from cardiac angiosarcoma, he leaves behind a legacy that stretches beyond the fabrics of the fashion industry.

Abloh’s journey began when he met Kanye West.

“I think Kanye has a huge role in putting Virgil in the spotlight and in his overall rise to fame. I think that the two of them built off each other and helped make each other better,” Sixth Former Brendan Sullivan said.

Abloh joined West’s creative team back in 2009 and was shortly appointed creative director at Donda, West’s creative space. During that time, both of them interned at Fendi, which introduced Abloh to the inner workings of an upper echelon fashion house. This served as the foundational experience for Pyrex Vision, an initiative that gave a unique iteration to popular pieces of clothing. These concepts later developed into the catalyst for Abloh’s meteoric rise to fame: Off White.

Synonymous with Off White’s success, Abloh’s iconic quotations adorned virtually every Off White product and garnered the attention of many. The quotations serve as a means of ironic detachment, bringing into question the purpose and meaning of the product or word. Abloh had the creative freedom to be figurative and concise at the same time.

“I see the quotation marks as a simplification for the object they are on. They often stated the object as it was for example a pair of boots that says ‘for walking,’” Sullivan said. 

This, coupled with the aesthetic appeal to the younger generation, catapulted Off White to the top as the leading streetwear brand.

Between 2016 and 2018, Off White was ranked by Lyst Index as the hottest brand until Q3 of 2018. Time Magazine named Abloh one their 100 most influential people list. No other streetwear or fashion company had reached the level Abloh had reached and many credit his collaboration with other brands.

The Nike “10” shoe collection released in 2017 instantly sold out within minutes, and the collection continues to remain highly sought after. Even with working with brands like Nike, where he was presented a classic silhouette, Abloh continued to break boundaries and duality of meaning for each shoe.

“One shoe he worked on was the Nike Air Force 1 mid. He took a deep dive into the history of the Air Force 1 mid and looked into what it was first made for. He found out it was intended to be a lightweight hiking boot,” Fifth Former Josh Hans said. “His most recent collaboration, which has yet to be released, was to make [the Nike Air Forces] a lightweight hiking boot. The coolest thing he did was to bring back the original meaning of things, showing what it was intended to look like.”

Following Off White’s major success, LVMH appointed him as the Artistic Director of their menswear line. Abloh was a visionary and helped push the creative bounds of LVMH. Still, his impact on the world was bigger than fashion.

“The larger brands in the fashion world are dominated by white people, and he worked very hard to open the door for people of color to get a seat in that world.”

BRENDAN SULLIVAN ’22

“I feel like his impact came from his background mostly. The larger brands in the fashion world are dominated by white people, and he worked very hard to open the door for people of color to get a seat in that world,” Sullivan said. 

Abloh’s position as an executive among LVMH was the highest position by far that a Black person had reached in the fashion industry. His “Post Modern” Scholarship Fund, founded in 2020, raised $1 million dollars to provide opportunities for Black students in fashion.

Virgil Abloh believed it was important that his designs did more than impact the fashion industry but to make a difference in young people’s lives. Regardless of socioeconomic status, he made sure that his view on design could be shared with everyone. Abloh was at the forefront of the zeitgeist of the 2010s and challenged the limits of a fashion designer, what it meant being a minority in this industry, and more. Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2019, he didn’t back away from his responsibilities with LVMH and continued to do the most he could with the last years of his life.

“Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” his wife quoted him in an Instagram post stating his passing. 

No one could imagine that a kid from Rockford, Illinois, would go on to accomplish what he has done. Abloh reached unfathomable heights and cemented his place as a legend in the fashion industry but his greatest design was the invisible fabric he created that weaved the entire community together.