“Unforgettable”: Virgil Abloh’s Impact


Illustration by Alexa Druyanoff

Mimi Landes and Vasilia Yordanova

As she opened Instagram on a gloomy Sunday morning, Ally White ’22 stumbled across a post from designer brand Louis Vuitton captioned, “Rest In Peace V.” She scrolled through dozens of comments from various celebrities, each with a signature pair of quotation marks surrounding nearly all of their messages. White grew increasingly concerned. She scoured the internet searching for the identity of this figure, and eventually, her heart sank as she discovered that “V” was in fact an idol of hers: Virgil Abloh.

Abloh passed away from a rare form of cancer known as cardiac angiosarcoma Nov. 28. Abloh was 41.

Fashion designer and entrepreneur Abloh created luxury streetwear brand Off-White and was the first Black artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear. Off-White was made famous by Abloh’s signature use of quotation marks throughout his designs as well as his use of thick black and white stripes to decorate the brand’s shoes. Abloh’s work earned him accolades ranging from a Grammy Award in 2012 for his direction on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s collaborative album “Watch The Throne,” to GQ’s International Designer of the Year Award in 2017 to being named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People In The World in 2018, according to The Washington Post.

Following his passing, Louis Vuitton held a fashion show in Miami on Nov. 30, originally intended to showcase the company’s spring-summer 2022 collection but then became a celebration dedicated to Abloh.

Miles Misczynski ’23 said he was first interested in Abloh’s creation of the original Off-White and Nike collaboration sneakers in 2017.

“I think he was such an important figure in the fashion world because he really formed a bridge between streetwear and high fashion,” Misczynski said. “I not only fell in love with the design [of the Nike collaboration] itself but also I became both inspired and motivated by Virgil’s story. His influence in the world will not only be left in the realm of fashion but also in the realms of music and architecture.”

Christopher Arakelian ’23 said Abloh’s work inspires people from a variety of backgrounds.

“To put it shortly, [Abloh] was a fashion icon,” Arakelian said. “Well known by numerous rappers, basketball players and celebrities, his impact reached many. [Abloh influenced] the music I listen to, the way I dress and which sports I follow.”

Additionally, Arakelian said Abloh’s life’s work will cement him as one of the most influential designers and artists.

“Being the first [Black] artistic director for Louis Vuitton marked a great turning point in fashion history,” Arakelian said. “The comfortability in [Abloh’s] clothing also drew me towards his pieces.”

Visual Arts Teacher Conor Thompson said Abloh’s work blurred the lines between art and fashion, partly because Abloh drew inspiration from the Dadaist art movement of the 20th century.

“Virgil Abloh cited Marcel Duchamp—[a Dadaist]—as an influence on his fashion designs, presumably because of Duchamp’s infamous use of the readymade and his embrace of appropriation,” Thompson said. “The [fashion and art] worlds are often conflated, and art seems more and more to be produced on a fashion schedule with rotating seasons, corporate spectacles and gala events. For example, at Art Basel Miami [on Dec. 2-4], there was a large installation dedicated to Abloh.”

Jessica Thompson ’23 said Abloh’s impact on the recent merging of art and fashion is significant.

“[Abloh] is such an important figure in fashion because of his incorporation of culture, architecture and music into his designs and because he fused his own identity into his work, changing people’s typical perception of fashion,” Jessica Thompson said.

Jessica Thompson said she admires Abloh’s activism and social justice work.

“[Abloh] used his platform to inspire young people to think outside the box and advocate for systemic change,” Jessica Thompson said. “He will be remembered as someone who was not afraid to take on change and [someone] who broke boundaries, and he will forever be an inspiration to the Black community.”

According to Vogue, Abloh dedicated much of his time to serving underprivileged communities. He supported skateboarders and surfers in Ghana, where his parents were born, and in 2017, he designed uniforms for a French soccer team and invited the players to his fashion shows. Additionally, Abloh funded park facilities for children in his home city of Chicago and various other service projects worldwide.

White said she was deeply saddened when she learned of Abloh’s passing, not simply because of his clothing brand but also because she admires his social justice work and his dedication to honoring his upbringing.

“The fact that he grew up with immigrant parents in Chicago and came from nothing [yet became] the first black creative director of [Louis Vuitton] shows his importance in the fashion world,” White said.

White said above all, Abloh’s impact on underprivileged communities is his greatest achievement and the most significant aspect of his legacy.

“[Abloh] has inspired and will continue to inspire so many people including kids like himself that grew up in the same conditions and have the same dreams,” White said. “In a society that doesn’t support the dreams of black youth, [Abloh] showed them inspiration for a better future.”