When we heard about Virgil Abloh’s death on Nov. 28, everything was quiet for a moment. The fashion world seemed to stop to process the loss of this titan, whose passing at 41 came after a private battle with cancer. Then, as the news spread, the whole industry vibrated with grief.
Abloh’s appointment as Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of menswear in 2018 marked a huge milestone for the industry, the first time a Black man had been named to that role. More impressively, this was one of the few occasions a Black man had a seat at the table at all in a luxury house. This wasn’t just a headcount and box check. It was a deliberate approach to unify cultures and break down barriers that had long been overdue. Abloh took Louis Vuitton into the future, infusing the brand with codes from his roots in Chicago, streetwear, and Black iconography. But that was only one measure of the impact of Abloh, who also headed the label Off-White, served as a longtime creative director for Kanye West, and touched the music and fashion worlds — and the culture at large — in so many ways.
Here, we’ve collected letters from a few of his friends and colleagues, each of whom has also dedicated a ballad in recognition of his legacy as a DJ and advocate for young artists. Although he is most recognized through the guise of fashion and music, his true talents were amplifying street culture and its meaning among those who couldn’t understand — a testament given by those who knew him best.
DJ and Record Producer
Ballad: Donna Summer, “I Feel Love”
I will never forget when I first met you in Stockholm; we were both playing at a fashion-show party, and I knew no one would come to my stage because I was playing at the same time as the headliner that night. But there was one person who showed up: you. You came to me to express your support, and I will always appreciate how that made me feel.
For me, you set a new standard for humanity. With your championing spirit, you truly believed in bringing everyone up together and fought so much for so many communities. No one was left behind by you, and you can truly say you were here and left a mark in this world. I admire how you managed to still be present and keep up your loving and positive attitude until the end. You will forever remain a true pioneer and hero of our generation that we will always remember.
Rest in power, Virgil. Thank you for inspiring me and countless others.
Designer and Founder of Married to the Mob, Television Personality
Ballad: #BEEN #TRILL, “Wet Out Here”
This letter will never do you justice. And no words will ever suffice to explain your magic. Even though so much of your life was about communicating with others whether through art, fashion, or music, you were so clearly tapped into something divine within yourself. And it was magnetic. You managed to make everyone feel so supported and special that you came into contact with. Since you left, the internet is now flooded with supportive words of encouragement that you sent people. Even in your last days you managed to respond back to people with positivity and grace. You would remind people of their talent, or you would offer an idea or help on how to turn one’s vision into reality. You stayed excited and insatiable, devouring project after project — you were an idea machine.
You gave me one of my first write-ups for Married to the Mob, in 2006, on thebrilliance.com. It took several years for us to finally meet in person, but when we did, you stayed that same guy from that moment on. In between hanging out in Shanghai, L.A., NYC, or wherever we would run into each other, we stayed in touch and followed each other’s careers and creative ventures. I have no idea how you found the time to keep in touch while also becoming one of the most influential people of our lifetime, but you did. You dressed me for Bravo Con in 2019 and, on my way there, thanked me for wearing Off-White. I laughed ’cause it was so obvious you were the one doing me a huge favor, not the other way around. But that was how you were. Always humble when you had zero reason to be.
Whenever you won, it was like we all won. There were a few haters, but you chose to keep perspective. You never focused on the bullshit or negativity. You made every second count and never wasted a beat. So, I will take a page from your book and do the same.
Yes, you were a trailblazer and a disrupter and an icon across many mediums, but the most impressive thing about you was the way you treated others. Your humility and desire to give other opportunities was unmatched. So many things about you, Virgil. The rarest. To say you will be missed doesn’t quite explain it. May your memory be a blessing.
Designer and Founder of Reed Art Department
Ballad: Jimi Hendrix, “Little Wing”
You didn’t only show us the path. You created it. I’ve been in this industry for 25-plus years. I know for a fact that this road wasn’t there! You fucking paved it, bro! Then, while others would have put a gated door on that path, you instead drew a map, shared the blueprint, and gave us the keys.
The crazy part? You knew the clock was ticking. I asked myself at least once a month, “How can you be doing so much?!” Now I know. You were living life like each day could be your last.
I’m gonna finish the project we were working on in the way you wanted. Unfortunately, NDAs won’t allow people to see it till 2023, but I’m gonna show it to you in person one day. Can’t wait to see what you’ve done with Heaven when I get up there.
Ballad: Led Zeppelin, “In the Light”
First and foremost, I am heartbroken. What a journey you took us on. Always the utmost respect for each other’s visions regarding the ever-changing culture that we have regularly contributed to over the course of a few eras. Somehow destiny had brought us together almost 20 years ago, with a similar mindset of working from the heart.
Becoming a platform to introduce a curated, never-ending list of talent to an often-unknowing audience, your ability to simultaneously work on multiple projects effortlessly was a testament to this being a labor of love and the furthest thing from a job. Everything was becoming more exciting by the year. The reality is that your life was a fluid art project, organically morphing in all directions, at all times. It was a gift to experience your magic. I honestly think that you were a saint.
I love you. Condolences to your family and the global community, which will never let you be forgotten.
Designer and Founder of Midnight Studios
Ballad: Royal Flush, “Worldwide (Instrumental)”
To someone who I can’t quite assign a title to, someone who served as the pillar to the very world I grew up admiring, and later brought into directly through your open arms. To someone who fathered me right into my dream. Virgil Abloh: a teacher, a mentor, a big brother, a friend, and so much more.
I first spoke with you in 2014, via a spontaneous Twitter message, which to my surprise you responded to, right around the time I was figuring out who I wanted to be and what I wanted my life to be. I remember prior to that day, seeing you launch Pyrex, thinking you were creating something I can’t quite put a finger on. It wasn’t your typical streetwear label, and it wasn’t anything I would see on Rodeo Drive, yet everyone loved it. I immediately felt like a door blew open to a world that I could be accepted into without any formal background in fashion. All I needed was my dream and my mind.
When I was ready to begin my journey into fashion, any question I had, any idea I had, I couldn’t wait to run it by you. I remember asking to sit in the car with you from one meeting or show to the next, getting as many questions out as I could, and you being so patient with me, answering them all. When I was ready to try selling my collections to stores, without hesitation you sent me old line sheets and catalogues to replicate. Anything you said I listened to, because I felt like you had the code. When I asked to collaborate on a couple of T-shirts together, you took those ideas and surprised me with all of them on a runway show you brought my family and me to. You put them in stores I couldn’t even afford to step into. You changed my life forever.
I can only hope to be half the mentor and leader you were one day. You have inspired me since the day I first heard the name Virgil Abloh. And you will continue to inspire me until the day we meet again. Thank you for everything you’ve done. For me and for kids like me across the world. Words will never explain the gratefulness we have for you.