Culture

Remembering Virgil Abloh: The Savant Who Remade Fashion

Virgil Abloh, who died at 41, will leave a legacy behind pushing forward the belief that accomplishing your wildest dreams is possible for Black people.

Virgil Abloh’s inventive imagination was always at work. His attitude and ability to create conversation pieces was the foundation of Off-White which, in turn, influenced his appointment as the Creative Director of Menswear at Louis Vuitton. His meteoric rise into the upper crust of one the most prestigious fashion houses was a path marked by ambition, but it wouldn’t have happened without his laser focus on youth culture and streetwear. His passion for the younger generation bled into his designs, allowing him to break barriers. 

Abloh, who on Sunday died of a rare cancer at 41, will leave a legacy behind that pushes forward the belief that accomplishing your wildest dreams is possible for immigrants and Black people. Even amid the chips stacked against these marginalized groups, Virgil worked to make them feel seen. This approach was expressed in an interview with Esquire conducted four years ago: “I’m trying to inspire a generation of kids who largely weren’t taught to believe that you could do these sorts of things,” he told the publication. 

Barriers would continue to be erased due to Abloh’s disruptive ideas. In 2012, he sold Pyrex Vision shirts — which were bootleg Ralph Lauren pieces with the number 23 on them — for $500. This would later morph into Off-White, his first fashion house, in 2013. His first store in Tokyo came in 2016, it and others which followed were designed by Family, a now defunct architecture firm. Oana Stănescu, an architecture at Family, shared in an interview with The Cut that the stores were meant to be “hangout zones, galleries, and party spaces as much as sale floors.” He cultivated a community that he felt was missing in fashion.

Alongside his idea of building community amongst fashion outsiders, Virgil also poured into his mentees and those he collaborated with. Everard Best (aka Ev Bravado), creative director of Who Decides War, a cult favorite label, said the following in tribute to the late innovator:

“There’s just so much to be said about the super human being, my mentor Virgil Abloh. V has to be one of the biggest inspirations in my life. I’m more than thankful for the opportunity you gave to me to design alongside you. You pushed us to do more, dream bigger. Thanks for changing our lives.” 

For Who Decides War’s latest collection, shown at New York Fashion Week in September, Best and creative director Téla D’Amore were inspired by their backgrounds. References at the show included nods to the Tuskegee Airmen, Civil Rights leaders and also WWII. Graphic-centric pieces trousers, inventive knitwear, and DIY denim push forward the idea of WDW’s take on Americana fashion. This is the same conversation Off-White contributed to years ago when the brand first launched in Milan. 

In 2015, London-based designer Samuel Ross, another mentee and protégé of Abloh, founded A Cold Wall. When it was founded, A Cold Wall was Ross’ way of presenting his take on British street style and Britain’s class system. Though he began with street inclinations Samuel became a brand-to-watch due to his knack for creating coveted items like handmade T-shirts that were hand-dyed. Two years prior in 2013, he began working under Abloh on projects including collaborations for Yeezy.

Virgil Abloh was a multi-hyphenate before this was even a catchphrase people used. Photo Credit: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Now a respected fashion house with coveted stockists, Ross, and his team still create menswear, footwear, and accessories equipped with a strong aesthetic. His journey included dabbling in art and fashion for years. He bootstrapped his company, took risks, and grew up alongside his consumer who has stayed loyal to him for over six years. Tailored trousers, luxe sweaters and elevated workwear pieces make up his current offerings. Abloh took Ross under his wing years ago and this in turn gave him the credibility he needed to thrive.

The Post-Modern Scholarship Fund created by Abloh is another component of his lasting legacy. In August 2020, $1 million was raised for the fund and its aim was to invest in the next generation of fashion industry leaders. In a Vogue interview he shared:

And that’s why I focus on design, while I’m also focusing on asking what and who can I shine a light on. You know it’s not just about making art or fashion for its own sake: there are kids in Accra who can become attached and engaged in the skateboarding community if someone builds a bridge. And there are kids in the South Side of Chicago that need education and health: how does what I’m doing tie into that? What’s the bridge for that? That’s sort of the ethos of my career. You know, I started the Post-Modern Scholarship Fund and raised a million dollars to offer assistance in the education of black students. Those things, they’re critical to me.”

Virgil Abloh was a multi-hyphenate before this was even a catchphrase and his impact on the business of fashion will also be longstanding. The idea that streetwear is profitable in the market would not have been possible without his spirit of discovery. Off-White’s house codes — logo tees and pieces emblazoned with graphics — provided a blueprint for luxury fashion houses who were looking to tap into younger audiences. For that, the global fashion industry will never be the same.

Robyn Mowatt

Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind on Twitter at @robyn_mowatt.

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