Virgil Abloh dies at 41

Katrina wittkamp

On November 28, the death of Virgil Abloh at the age of 41 was announcement to the public by LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) that day online and on social networks. The famous designer privately suffered from a rare cancer, angiosarcoma of the heart, for the last two years of his life. His investigations spanning multiple disciplines – fashion, music and industrial design – are notable for embodying his seemingly insatiable curiosity. “Question everything,” Abloh would say and his remarkable career shows how to do it.

Born in Rockford, Ill. To Ghanaian immigrants, Abloh began his career as a civil engineering student at the University of Wisconsin — Madison, who went on to earn an M.Arch. from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. While studying at IIT, he met the Chicagoan Kanye West and began collaborating with the West team on album covers, concert designs, and merchandising. In 2013, Abloh launched White as a Milan-based fashion brand whose products spanned continents, disciplines and races. His work has consistently achieved high levels of fame within and across the established fashion, music and automotive design industries, while always seeking cross-fertilizations between them.

In 2018, Abloh was selected by LVMH to become artistic director of the Louis Vuitton menswear collection, forging a sophisticated mix of streetwear and luxury clothing for the iconic Parisian company.

In 2019, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago organized a solo exhibition for the artist, Virgil Abloh: figures of speech, who continues to travel. As the event opened, Abloh recalled traveling with West early in his career to Paris, where the couple were denied entry to fashion shows they had hoped to attend. “I started out by screen printing shirts on the South Side of Chicago to convince the boss of the biggest luxury group that I had to lead one of his biggest arms,” he said.

"Speech figures"  at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art
Nathan Keay, MCA Chicago
“Figures of Speech”, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago


Abloh’s production was prolific, but still thoughtful and informed by prototyping methodologies drawn from his college education. “I’m in failure, that’s cool,” he told the MCA. “But there is always a trajectory. While compiling his production for the exhibit, Abloh discovered that his archive spanned six laptops and many additional hard drives. “It only took thirteen works for Duchamp to express something, the principles of readymades,” he writes in the exhibition catalog. “I needed four terabytes to get to where I think he left off.”

“Virgil Abloh was an outstanding example of how an architectural education can prepare people for all kinds of careers,” says Reed Kroloff, current Dean of IIT. “He brought to everything he did with the rigor, precision and fascination with manufacturing that are hallmarks of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Virgil Abloh was an outstanding example of how an architectural education can prepare people for all kinds of careers.

In February 2020, the AIA appointed Abloh as the keynote speaker for its annual architecture conference, an event that was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July of the same year, Abloh announced the establishment of the Virgil Abloh Postmodern Scholarship Fund, which had raised $ 1 million in partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Fund to support black students entering the fashion industry. His next promotion of fellows is due to be announced early next year.

In a remarkably short time, Abloh was able to preserve his legacy through his creativity and production. As part of his tribute to Abloh, fellow Chicagoan Theaster Gates wrote on Instagram: “Virgil was not just a luminary, he was a light. He demonstrated what was possible for so many black artists and designers. He’s brought Chicago to New York, Milan, Paris and places we’ve never been to before. He reshaped an entire industry with his daring creativity, lighting the way forward for generations of young designers who will follow in his footsteps.

“Virgil is the model. “

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