If you are serious about a career in the creative industry, you should know the name Virgil Abloh.
One of the most influential, game-changing American designers of the last few decades died of cancer on Sunday, November 28, at the age of 41. He did not stop creating until the end of his life, passing from a rare form of cancer behind closed doors. As the founder of Off-White and the artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, Virgil Abloh was best known for breaking the barrier between streetwear and luxury.
The clever inventor was born the son of a seamstress in Rockford, Illinois right outside of Chicago. Abloh was an artistic, passionate kid who went on to receive an undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master’s Degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, according to Vogue. Through pure genius, he applied his unparalleled skills in design to his fashion abilities, with an eye for the way shapes and structures can send a message. The fashion designer is proof there is no one way to the top.
“I’m always trying to prove to my 17-year-old self that I can do creative things I thought weren’t possible,” Abloh told W Magazine.
Just like many of us, Abloh started as an intern in his twenties. According to Vogue Business, he made $500 each month working at Fendi alongside his close friend Kanye West, learning first-hand about European fashion and creating clothing. He took this opportunity to build connections with the artists he worked under and showcased his talent and limitless effort to the people who would soon become his equals in the industry.
The visionary went on to become West’s creative director in 2010, earned a Grammy nomination for his direction of Jay-Z and West’s album “Watch the Throne,” and launched his first brand in 2012, repurposing Ralph Lauren flannel shirts. In 2013, he founded Off-White alongside the New Guard Group — “Defining the gray area between black and white as the color of Off-White.” He became one of the creative leads at LVMH in 2018 as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections
Abloh did not follow the rules. He challenged the traditions established by those who came before him and invented concepts never seen before. He combined the worlds of streetwear and luxury into one brand, making new rules through his constant, unimaginable out-of-the-box way of creating. He made artists from around the world question the outdated definitions that had been established in the industry and opened the minds of many. He hated restrictions as much as he hated the label of “designer.”
“I feel like those restrictions about what a designer should and shouldn’t do are from a previous era. We think without limits,” said Abloh, as reported by fashion blogger Susie Lau.
Virgil Abloh created a space for artists who felt like outsiders. In 2009, he told W Magazine, “We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there. We saw this as our chance to participate and make current culture. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were bringing more excitement than the industry was.”
Virgil Abloh was the opposite of a gatekeeper. He opened doors to new voices and made room for new creators. To promote inclusivity and diversity, Abloh fought hard to build a community and encourage his fans directly through social media and beyond. He went as far as to generously give “cheat codes” to aspiring artists, by sharing advice and tools for success such as his. As a board member of the Fashion Scholarship Fund, he created the “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, which raised one million dollars to support young Black artists. In his Instagram post following his first Louis Vuitton showcase, he wrote, “you can do it too…” He understood the importance of listening to young people and giving them a way in.
As published by Perfect Magazine, Virgil Abloh said “You can’t surf without the wave. You have to study the wave, you have to be in the water, you have to look at it and know when it’s going to break. You have to know if there are any other surfers who are going to take that exact same wave.”
He immersed himself in the industry, and actively learned the inner workings to decide what he wanted to change and introduce. While his natural talent and education in design definitely aided him to become the greatest designer of his generation, he did not get there without discipline and a base in his values of diversity, disruption, and genuine kindness.
A sea of kind words has flooded social media since the beginning of the week, proving the positive impact Virgil Abloh had on every single person he worked with and inspired.
The Hadid sisters, with which he worked closely throughout his career, shared fond memories with the designer, revealing his beautiful soul and uplifting personality.
“He made every person he came across feel special in every way he possibly could,” said Bella Hadid on Instagram.
“His kindness and energetic generosity left a lasting impression on every life he touches — he made everyone feel seen and special,” said Gigi Hadid.
If you take anything from Virgil Abloh and the legacy he left behind, learn that how you treat others matters. People always remember how you made them feel. In Abloh’s case, he made others feel important, motivated, and artistically inspired. Be kind to every person you work with, and be genuine with your interest and your time.
You can’t just create anything and be successful. You need values, passion, and a mission behind everything you do. Virgil Abloh has taught us to always be looking for inspiration and open ourselves to different perspectives.
“Good design has a critical role to play in addressing the problems of today and driving behavioral change, so we can have a positive impact in shaping our future and the future of this planet,” Abloh posted on Instagram nine days before his passing. “My whole premise is to lift up the next generation of designers, innovators, and creative minds from non-typical trajectories.”
And lift up he did. Abloh’s commitment to raising a new generation — our generation — of creatives is a legacy we should remember forever.
Featured photo via @virgilabloh.