Top fashion designer Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection, died on Sunday at the age of 41 from cancer, the fashion and luxury house’s French owner LVMH has announced.
Abloh, the American-born son of Ghanaian immigrants who became fashion’s highest-profile Black designer, also worked as a DJ and visual artist and had been at Vuitton since March 2018. He also founded the Italian luxury streetwear label Off-White, in which LVMH took a 60 percent stake earlier this year, and was a former collaborator with rapper and fashion designer Ye, formerly known as Kanye West.
“We are all shocked by this terrible news,” LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault said in a statement.
“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, but also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”
Born in 1980 near Chicago, Abloh and his sister were brought up in Rockford, Illinois. According to a 2018 Vogue magazine profile, his mother Eunice Abloh, a seamstress, taught him the basics of the craft at a young age.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he completed a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Abloh and Ye became interns at Fendi in Rome, and by 2010, Abloh was working as creative director for Ye’s creative agency, Donda. He also designed album covers for Ye’s Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
His arrival at LVMH in 2018 marked the marriage between streetwear and high-end fashion influenced by graffiti art, hip hop and skateboard culture.
The designer addressed environmental and social issues in his work with Louis Vuitton, with anti-racist and anti-homophobia messages at his January show in Paris.
Abloh said earlier this year he planned to use his partnership with LVMH “to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion in the industries we serve”.
Tributes to Abloh poured in from across the world of fashion and beyond.
“You left us way too soon Virgil,” said Nine Garcia, the former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.
“Your creativity, your infinite sense of curiosity, your love for design, your impeccable work ethic and your enormous generosity shaped a creative universe that challenged old misconceptions about how fashion should establish a dialogue with other disciplines. Your understanding of fashion bridged a gap, attracting a new audience that revered your designs.”
Veteran designer Donatella Versace said she was “lost for words” at Abloh’s death.
“The world has lost a fashion superstar,” she said. “An innovator. A creator for the history books. I am thinking of all your loved ones on this tragic day. Love, Donatella.”
Abloh had a close following well beyond the fashion industry and was a celebrity name in his own right.
British actor Idris Elba wrote on Twitter: “Too soon Virgil. You will be missed from this world man.”
Fellow British actor Riz Ahmed added that Abloh had “stretched culture” and “changed the game”, helping to “reimagine what’s possible”.
French actor Omar Sy, famed for his role in the Netflix series Lupin, wrote simply on Twitter: “Rest in Power Virgil.”
Abloh is survived by his wife, Shannon, his children Lowe and Grey, his sister Edwina, and his parents Nee and Eunice.
“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” said a message posted to his Instagram account, announcing his death.
“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.”