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Fashion

Black In Fashion Spotlight: Remembering Virgil Abloh’s Revolutionary Career

The late designer became the first Black American to lead a French fashion house, and changed the meaning of fashion forever.

From entering fashion in 2012 with a cult-favorite streetwear brand, through to heading the artistic direction of Louis Vuitton’s menswear from 2018 until his untimely death in 2021, Virgil Abloh’s cultural impact will be felt for years to come. Here’s why, ahead.

Abloh’s legacy spans well beyond fashion. The multi-hyphenate was also known for his work in furniture design, DJing, and art direction, having a hand in album covers from such artists as Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Lil Uzi Vert, and more.

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Born to Ghanaian immigrant parents in Illinois, Abloh learned how to sew early on from his mother (a seamstress), but went on to study civil engineering and architecture in undergraduate and graduate school, respectively.

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The latter would become the fire that fueled Abloh’s desire to pursue fashion. By 2009, he had scored an internship at Fendi alongside Kanye West, sparking an ongoing partnership wherein Abloh would later become creative director of West’s agency Donda.

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Nothing Abloh touched came without a cult following. Been Trill, a streetwear collective Abloh co-founded in 2012 and Pyrex, his first official fashion label, both skyrocketed to popularity, though their doors were shuttered just as quickly.

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The end of Pyrex immediately marked the birth of Off-White, Abloh’s Milan-based fashion house known for merging streetwear with luxury seamlessly. The brand had launched its womenswear line and joined the official Paris Fashion Week calendar by 2014, and quickly became a celebrity favorite.

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The influx of collaborative launches between Abloh, Off-White, and a number of household name brands, including Warby Parker, Jimmy Choo, IKEA, and McDonald’s were a testament to his reach. However, it was an ongoing Nike collaboration that remains most notable.

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Abloh’s partnership with Nike initiated in 2017 with “The Ten,” wherein the designer reimagined ten iconic sneaker styles, many now bearing his signature zip-tie tag. The collaboration remains ongoing following Abloh’s passing, with his shoe designs currently on resale market for thousands of dollars.

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Louis Vuitton’s naming of Abloh as Artistic Director of Menswear in 2018 became the ultimate cultural reset. Known to use his platform to advocate change in the industry, Abloh’s work at LVMH became synonymous with hope, diversity, and creativity.

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Abloh’s wide-spanning work earned him due recognition, including Grammy and LVMH Prize nominations, as well as winning awards from the British Fashion Awards and GQ. Meanwhile, Time named Abloh one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.

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Tributes following Abloh’s untimely death prove he was regarded for far more than his designing talents. Instead, the true impact lies in the efforts the designer made to leave behind an industry that was kinder and more inclusive than when he arrived.

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Read the rest of our ‘Black In Fashion Spotlight’ series on: June Ambrose, Dapper Dan, and Ruth E. Carter.