Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director, died Sunday after a private battle with cancer. The acclaimed artist and fashion designer was 41 years old.
A statement posted to Abloh’s Instagram account reads: “For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma. He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”
The artist is survived by his wife, Shannon Abloh, and their two children, Lowe and Grey, as well as his parents Nee and Eunice and sister Edwina.
“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,” LVMH Chief Executive Officer Bernard Arnault wrote in a statement shared to social media. “The LVMH family joins me in this moment of great sorrow, and we are all thinking of his loved ones after the passing of their husband, their father, their brother or their friend.”
Abloh landed at Louis Vuitton five years after founding the streetwear fashion house Off-White in 2013. Before that, he had already made an indelible mark on the music scene as the artistic director for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 album Watch The Throne and more recently on DONDA. Both Chicago natives and musicians, the designer was a close and frequent collaborator of West, forming a strong bond after working together as interns at Fendi in 2009.
Throughout his career, Abloh prioritized change and diversity across creative spaces. His creative partnerships included collaborations with companies and artists spanning from Nike, Levi, Jimmy Choo, Moncler, Dr. Martens and Champion to A$AP Rocky, Rihanna and Beyoncé.
“For me, it’s less about being radical than being honest,” Abloh told Numéro in April 2021. “Honest with respect to the history of the world as it really is and not as we’ve been told it is all these years. It’s a holistic approach. I don’t think of diversity as a simple added extra mixed in with my work but as an essential component. That can clearly be seen in the stories I tell, the images I create and the people I hire.”
Abloh’s work was not just designed and inspired by streetwear and music, it was his full creative approach, intertwined with a history of Djing sets with artists from all over the world, collaborating with musicians for his latest collections at Louis Vuitton and OFF-WHITE, and working with Kanye in the early phases of DONDA.
He started as a DJ in highschool, a career that would follow him despite his later appointment as Creative Director for menswear to LVMH powerhouse Louis Vuitton in 2018. After graduating, he met Kanye West while screenprinting some of his unlabeled work in Chicago. This crossing of fates put him in the mix of later high profiled artists such as Jay Z, who would invite him to creative direct the joint album Watch the Throne. Additionally he took on the role of directing Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks album, and eventually took a position overseeing Kanye’s new established brand DONDA.
In 2012, Abloh launched Pyrex Vision, a streetwear label that quickly caught the attention of critics and artists alike for its emphasis on youth culture in the hip-hop scene. Kanye West and Jay Z, among others, were quick to endorse the fledgling brand despite it’s astronomic prices and simple remix of old Ralph Lauren shirts. It closed as quickly as it was born after, and he went on to join the New Guards Group, a system of edgy Italian clothing brands known for their unconventional collections and break from the traditional fashion scene. Under them he started OFF-WHITE and quickly amassed a cult following.
OFF-WHITE turned the industry upside-down, in part for it’s slew of high-profiled collabs. In 2017, the brand partnered with A$AP Rocky’s label AWGE to produce a series of shirts printed in fluorescent green lettering that were later revealed on Instagram and nodded to the midnight raves organized by Alboh back in the day. Earlier this year, he worked with Nigerian star Rema for the drop “Peace of Mind,” where he remixed a set and directed visuals for the (RED) album DANCE (RED) SAVE LIVES Vol. III that went to support HIV/AIDS programs in sub-Saharan Africa.