In the sweltering heat of June 2018, a monumental shift took place in the world of fashion. People line the sides of a rainbow-colored runway in the Palais-Royal gardens during Paris Fashion Week, a hallmark event for the industry. All those in attendance have come to view the debut of the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2019 menswear clothing line collection.
The likes of Travis Scott, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and other fashion icons, influencers, and curators look on as models parade up the runway in reimagined works of fashion more akin to pieces of art than practical pieces of clothing.
Just as the 12-minute exhibition draws to a close, an impactful moment begins to take form. As the last of the models file out of sight, and the band BADBADNOTGOOD continues to play a soulful rendition of Kanye West’s Ghost Town, a man dressed in a black Louis Vuitton t-shirt and matching LV tennis shoes appears in front of the crowd.
The man is greeted with a standing ovation. He looks around the crowd and bashfully wanders over to his friend ( whom he finds sitting in the front row). Both men embrace, wiping tears away from their eyes, obviously moved by the show that just took place.
This image of Virgil Abloh and Kanye West has been ingrained in the minds of many across the world and was the moment that solidified Abloh as a cultural legend forever.
Abloh’s trajectory to one of the most influential names in “The Culture” is an unconventional but inspiring tale. Growing up in Rockford, Illinois, the former creative director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear was not classically trained in the art of fashion, choosing instead to focus on the holistic discipline of design. Abloh received his bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later earned his master’s in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Soon after his graduation, Virgil and Kanye formed a relationship while interning at the famous Fendi Fashion House. As Ye gained more fame and attention, he leaned on his friend to help guide some of his creative endeavors; Kanye named Abloh creative director of DONDA, the rapper’s creative agency, as well as artistic director for his collaboration album with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, among many other things.
From 2012 to 2013, Abloh developed Pyrex Visions, a creative experiment used to spotlight the importance of youth culture, and Off-White, the high-end streetwear brand that skyrocketed him into the mainstream.
Abloh’s Off-White brand became synonymous with street culture and garnered him a reputation in fashion. Originally based in Milan, Italy, Abloh applied his self-made theory of “ironic detachment” to his reverse-engineered designs. As he developed new pieces, Abloh would only change the design “three percent,” maintaining that the method can change any idea into a whole new creative work.
Off-White’s signature zip-ties, bold typefaces, and quotation marks separated the brand from anything else produced at the time. The deconstructed nature of each piece put out from Abloh and Off-White had such a unique aesthetic and feel that no one could ignore the work being done.
With co-signs from some of the most famous names in pop culture, Abloh used the buzz to leverage partnerships with other brands, the most notable being his collaborations with Nike and IKEA. His authentic, distinctive outlook on design drew the attention of every entity around him, a quality that helped him land a role that shifted the paradigm of fashion forever: in March of 2018, Louis Vuitton named Abloh the creative director of their menswear line, meaning he was the first person of African American to head up the famous French fashion house.
Taking over the reins for LV, Abloh enacted his vision of developing a hybrid of high fashion and street culture, intertwining the two (seemingly opposite) worlds. Before Abloh, high fashion had been an unattainable ecosystem, an untouchable status symbol for the average person. Abloh opened the door and welcomed those once seen as industry outsiders, allowed only to peer through a distant lens. Once in power, “The Disruptor” (as he was affectionately known) brought with him a new set of rules that he would make the standard for the industry.
Abloh packaged high-end fashion within the irregular and ever-evolving context of streetwear, connecting the dots where many thought no line could be drawn. As the leader of LV, Abloh enlisted skaters, rappers, and other cultural icons to model his work and reshaped the fashion house’s image into something never seen prior to his arrival.
While he will be hailed as one of the most influential names in fashion history, Abloh emphasized touching the hearts of others with his works over anything else. The amount of opportunities and experiences Abloh created for various people across all disciplines is incalculable in its scope.
Death punctuates a life lived to its somber, emphatic end. However, some leave legacies that maintain a pulse, tying them to the world forever.
Virgil Abloh was an artist, a visionary, and a trailblazer, but more importantly, he was a husband, a father, a son, and a friend to many. In the wake of his untimely death, an outpouring of responses from friends, family, and strangers has flooded the timelines of everyone around the world.
On Tuesday, November 30, 2021, Louis Vuitton debuted Abloh’s final work for the fashion house. The collection, titled “Virgil Was Here,” is a fitting testament to the impact the legend made not only in fashion but on “The Culture” as a whole. While he may no longer be here physically, the name “Virgil” will maintain lasting significance in the hearts and minds of many for the rest of time.