Remembering Virgil Abloh

Kevin Oliver, The Carroll News

The late Virgil Abloh, remembered by Kevin Oliver. (Myles Kalus Anak Jihem)

Black excellence is the only appropriate way to describe Lil Uzi Vert’s “Luv is Rage 2” monochrome album cover. The eccentric Symere Woods is front and center with his bear companion. Miniature devilish versions of him reside in each corner, surrounded by white chalk illustrations of each song on the album, represented by a key, lightning strike and broken heart among others. The only element that retains color is the minimalistic Off-White tape,  the signature brand of none other than the legend himself, Virgil Abloh.

Abloh was born in 1980 in Rockford, Illinois and raised by Ghanaian parents. His father was a manager at a paint company, and his mother was a seamstress. Abloh was able to learn sewing from her early on, but it wasn’t clear then the sheer impact he’d have on the fashion and music industries, especially because after graduating high school he went on to study civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Abloh secured his bachelor’s degree in 2002, and four years later attained his master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. During his tenure at Illinois his interest in fashion began to sprite and led him to accept an internship at Fendi in 2009.

This internship is when his rise to prominence began, he was finally able to see the inner workings of the fashion industry and even began to conceptualize his own ideas. Abloh carried out this internship alongside Kanye West who shared a passion for streetwear, and although the pair admitted they weren’t allowed to create much, it was an opportunity for them to deepen their friendship and culminated in West making Abloh his creative director in 2010. One of his first projects with West was creative direction over “Watch the Throne,” the success of which coupled with the jaw dropping opulent cover co created by Abloh pushed him into the mainstream spotlight. Virgil also aided with the infamous Yeezus tour of 2013, a combination of visuals, story and West music.

An Off-White branded hoodie from Abloh’s collection. (Museum of FIT)

In 2013, Virgil began to branch out and follow his own creative vision, founding a label called Off-White. Born out of his desire to expand fashion and reinvent the wheel, this label is characterized by its industrial packaging, quotes and thick fonts that are easily recognizable. These elements are attached to high quality fabrics while still maintaining the street look that Virgil has always pushed in fashion. As for the quotes, they represent the creativity contained within simplicity, with a dash of satire here and there. A good example is the Off-White black dress that has a little black dress with quotation marks on it. Jokes aside, Abloh has stamped his place into the fashion world with this label, and has even collaborated with industry giants like Nike, Levi’s and even Ikea. Off-White’s simplistic yet fashionable designs have sent waves throughout the fashion industry. 

These waves would go on to be recognized in 2018 when Abloh was appointed Art Director for men’s fashion of Louis Vuitton. Under this new title, he quickly presented a collection at fashion week in Paris. Abloh described the theme of the 56-piece collection as “accessomorphis,” a portmanteau of accessory and garment. The walkway was an opportunity for him to blur the lines between high and low fashion. This forces out the notion that not only fashion but creativity in general should conform to a certain way. He enlisted the help of prominent names like Scott Mescudi and Jordan Carter to model for the collection along with a slew of others. The event is looked back upon as a success and one of the many highlights of Abloh’s career.

Through the years, Abloh has worked with and inspired countless artists. From his creation of the “Luv is Rage 2” cover alongside Symere Woods to his creative directing of Pusha-T’s “Darkest before Dawn,” he’s worked alongside artists old and new. These collaborations aren’t limited to the music scene, as he’s also done extensive collaborations with Takashi Murakami, the most prominent being the Gagosian Gallery that blended together a mix of Murakami’s abstract creations and Abloh’s industrial text. Abloh’s dedication to his work and others makes his untimely passing all the more saddening, every step of the way he was truly a beacon of Black excellence.