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VIRGIL WAS HERE
BY NANCY SERAFIN
“Artist, Architect, and Fashion designer: Virgil Abloh” (Canary Yellow). Many artists are not appreciated during their time or recognized as one of the greats until after they are gone. For Abloh, this was not the case. In the short 41 years he graced us with his presence, Virgil Abloh redefined the fashion industry, and showed us all how to be “disruptive in the best way” (Vogue).
As a Ghanaian-American man, creating a name for himself in the industry was disruptive in and of itself, but Abloh did much more than simply take up space. He was the son of immigrant parents and grew up just outside of Chicago in Rockford, IL. A true example of the “American dream,” he graduated from the University of Wisconsin and went on to earn his masters in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He interned for Fendi in Rome where he worked closely with many big names in fashion, including Louis Vuitton CEO, Michael Burke. In 2011, he served as the artistic director of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s album, Watch the Throne, officially jump-starting his career.
Perhaps his most legendary disruption came when he founded Off-White in 2013. Emerging as the king of streetwear and youth culture, Virgil Abloh altered the fashion industry forever. As many brands began to follow suit, we saw “streetwear” everywhere from the runway to the window displays on Fifth Avenue. So, we can all thank Abloh for creating our modern dress code and taking our favorite hoodies and sneakers from blah to brilliant. And yet, this wasn’t all he was doing. He took what could be considered “the uniform of the young and often Black working class,” and reimagined it into something that changed the entire fashion industry (Dazed).
His impact did not go unnoticed, Louis Vuitton named him artistic director of men’s wear in 2018. Thus, Virgil Abloh became the first Black artistic director of the world renowned brand. This position was earned by Abloh’s never ending creativity and his streetwear influence on the industry. The New York Times published an article earlier this year entitled, “Streetwear is Dead.” Quite an alarming phrase, but it is not what it seems. This headline actually came from something that Virgil Abloh said in an interview in 2019. However, he never meant that it would actually die, rather that, “the line between streetwear and fashion has effectively disappeared. Streetwear has become fashion — or fashion has become streetwear, depending on how you want to look at it” (NYT).
Later that year Abloh would be diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that he quietly battled until he passed away in 2021. Knowing that his time was limited only motivated him more to solidify his lasting impact. He established a scholarship fund for Black students and worked with Black feminists and activists to create the “I Support Black Women” campaign (Dazed). In his last two years, he focused on these causes that were near and dear to his heart, all the while still dominating in the fashion world creating his final Louis Vuitton show, “AN OCTOLOGY ACCORDING TO VIRGIL ABLOH” (HighsNobiety). Virgil Abloh undoubtedly revolutionized streetwear, championed Black involvement in luxury fashion, and modernized the entire industry. There is so much to remember and celebrate about him, but most importantly he reminds us that, “Life is so short you can't waste even a day subscribing to what someone thinks you can do versus knowing what you can do” - Virgil Abloh (1980 - 2021).