Off-White founder Virgil Abloh dies aged 41 of rare cancer

Abloh’s family announced Sunday on Instagram that the designer had died after combatting “a rare, aggressive form of cancer” called cardiac angiosarcoma, for which he underwent “numerous challenging treatments.”

Abloh redefined the idea of the modern fashion designer, adding DJ, artist and furniture designer to his creative arsenal. After training as an architect, he started designing clothes in 2012. His first design, a screenprint on a Ralph Lauren rugby shirt, set the tone for his future work: a postmodern art stunt cum fashion piece. Collaborating with everyone from Nike to Ikea, Perrier and Mercedes-Benz, he took fashion into arenas where it had not gone before, cross-pollinating it with other fields. The fashion purists were not amused; he told the Observer in 2019, “When I was showing in fashion week, people were saying, ‘That’s not fashion.’” In 2013 he founded his own label, Off-White, and was appointed head of menswear design at Louis Vuitton in 2018. He was the first black designer at Vuitton and the most visible black designer in fashion.

Abloh was also a hugely visible figure in rap, designing the album covers for Kanye West and Jay-Z’s joint album Watch the Throne, as well as West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy among others and covers for Pop Smoke, Westside Gunn, Octavian and Lil Uzi Vert. He worked closely with West before becoming a fashion designer. In an interview, the rapper had said of Abloh: “I have all these ideas and Virgil is able to architect them because he is an actual architect.”

Born outside of Chicago in Rockford, Illinois in 1980 throughout his career, he has focused on inclusivity and philanthropy across these disciplines. His statement about his objectives in life was written on his website and transcribed below.

Systemic change starts at the grassroots level, from the collective efforts of people taking action and lifting up their own communities. I’m committed to helping ensure that this social revolution is not just a moment but a movement – and I am holding myself to task. Enter my advocacy report: the ongoing progress in uplifting Black voices and showcasing Black talent and achievement.I hope to inspire others to fuel lasting progress in their own communities, companies and industries. With the help of my teams and the brands I work with, I have most recently focused on fundraising for Black youth education with the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund (in partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Fund) and partnering with non-profit change-maker Aleta Clarke for Chicago safe houses. Opening new doors for the Black community has always been, and will always be, the focus of my career.We cannot reach an equitable future without first looking critically at how our own ecosystems help or hinder that growth. An important part of how I work across all projects is by building teams that more accurately represent the racial and ethnic makeup of our diverse and global consumer base.

Because the creatives on my team are such a central part of what keeps those brands growing and evolving, I am so proud to have a platform that allows me to target, hire and work with diverse teams of some of the most talented artists and thinkers to fuel every step of the creative process. Under the direction of Virgil Abloh, Off-White™ has worked exclusively with Black-owned businesses for art direction, shooting and styling for each of the Off-White™ fashion shows.At VAA LLC, Alaska-Alaska and Off-White™️, we define underrepresented groups (URG) as people whose racial and/or ethnic background is from one of the following: American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian, Black or African-American, Hispanic / Latino, Native Hawaiin or other Pacific Islander, or descended from two-or-more races. 

VAA LLC is proud to have such a diverse employee base that welcomes people of all race, gender, sexuality, physical and mental ability and nationality. On last count, our team members come from 28 different countries. I truly believe that a multi-layered approach is key to making a lasting difference so, with this in mind, my advocacy takes six main and interconnected forms:



Elevating talented Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in and outside of our industry.DONATIONS & Leveraging the privilege of financial resources to uplift communities in need of CORPORATE ADVOCACY. Using my voice within the industry, Louis Vuitton, and Off-White to foster more inclusive environments.

Some of his charity work

Driving initiatives that showcase Black, Indigenous, and People of Color role models or use all Black collaborators.

Endorsing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color artists and using my influence to promote their work.Past, Present & Future


GHANA SKATE PARK – Designing a Skate Park

DESIGNER YARD SALE Raised 8,100 for a Ikea Chair donated

VIRGIL ABLOH LEGAL ASSISTANCE Providing Legal help via. Virgil Abloh’s Legal Counsels to the “In the black” black fashion designers industry group


VIRGIL ABLOH “OFFICE HOURS”Immediate fashion business mentoring leader to the “In the black” black fashion designers industry group.


Head Ambassador to raise awareness and funds for charity donations for Black Education.


Continuation of mentoring and Lecturing Programs. VOTER REGISTRATION ART DIRECTION VOTER REGISTRATION INITATIVE x FASHION INDUSTRY WORKING CAMPAIGN: #VoteToFashionOurFuture MOCA FACEMASK will commission renowned artists to create a design for a mask to benefit MOCA. 100% of proceeds will support MOCA during the global pandemic.

THE “LVMH BLACK DATABASE”Database of black talent that LVMH companies can work with. LVMH DIVERSITY PANEL : An initiative to highlight diversity in the LVMH umbrella with the goal to increase diversity within the portfolio. SOFT BANK 100 MILLION FUND, A fund for entrepreneurs who are diverse (people of color). OFF-WHITE™️ I SUPPORT YOUNG BLACK BUSINESSES Teen initiative to highlight young black businesses via. the Off-White™️ channels.

DSM’S FEARLESS INITIATIVE FOR POSITIVE IMAGINATION AND INSPIRATIONAL SOLIDARITY Looking to the future with optimism and hope, and working on a project to spread positive energy and positive affirmations together with friends of DSM and the wider DSM global community. SNAPCHAT MASKS FILTER Help push the importance of wearing masks globally. An opportunity to partner with Partner in Health, asking for their patrons/users to give back to the charity in addition. The organization Partner in Health’s goals are “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair. OFF-WHITE MASKS PROJECT Creation of a multitude of masks to help fight the spread of COVID 19. Distributed to the black community in Milan. DGK COLLABORATION Releasing August 1st 2020, this will be a skateboard collaboration with Stevie Williams. NIKE OFF-WHITE™️ BLACK SKATE PROGRAM, A collective of Black Skateboarders who are the face of future to be released Nike Off-White™️ Rubber Dunks AHMAUD ARBERY SONG WITH LUPE FIASCO 2020 Spoken word poem piece ~ of a description of what an “Air Ahmaud” would look like. Part of a 3 piece hook. NIKE OFF-WHITE™️ PROTÉGÉ STUDIO “BLACKBOARD”Will be designed with a infrastructure where the mentee will be placed in a newly created executive design program, where they will move up the company until they are at the director level. Therefore increasing the amount of underrepresented ethnic groups in the top management level. 2020 Nikelab Chicago Activations Little Sun Foundation (Solar Power)MCA Retail – Chicago Local Printer Jay Green

Abloh decided to focus on the theme of boyhood—not fashion or menswear. The opening chapter of the campaign, shot by the Dutch photography duo Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, debuted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2019, and features a three-year-old model posing as the Statue of Liberty. The campaign asserts Abloh’s belief that children of color will take center stage in the future of luxury fashion.MCA “FIGURES OF SPEECH” BLACK GAZE Louis Vuitton Ideation Studio – Mannequins for Louis Vuitton Men’s Collection Spring/Summer 2019 (“Dark Side of the Rainbow”), 2018. Creative direction by Virgil Abloh Green foam For his first season debut at Louis Vuitton, Abloh presented a boldly colorful collection on a rainbow-hued runway at the Tuileries Garden in Paris. The show featured an unprecedented number of models of color. These monochromatic mannequins are based on actual models from the show and have since appeared in Louis Vuitton stores around the world. They attest to Abloh’s commitment to representing diversity in all shades.MCA “FIGURES OF SPEECH” BLACK GAZE Cotton, 2019 Acrylic on canvas This painting re-creates the logo of Cotton Incorporated, an American lobbying group established in 1970 to promote cotton as the fabric of choice for manufacturers and consumers around the globe. Abloh enlarged the logo to the scale of a billboard advertisement, highlighting the organization’s role in telling and selling a positive story of cotton, which hides the crop’s historical connection to slavery in the United States.

MCA “FIGURES OF SPEECH” BLACK GAZE ROOM“OPTIONS,” 2019 Flocked mild steel markers sixteen markers on the floor of this gallery are meant to replicate those used to identify evidence at a crime scene. Sixteen represents the number of times a Chicago police officer fired at seventeen- year-old Laquan McDonald when he fatally shot him in 2014. Coming from Chicago, a city familiar with gun violence, Abloh asks viewers to choose a path of creativity over one of brutality. ” You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place, 2015/19 Neon sign This neon sign welcomed attendees to the Off-White Women’s Collection Fall/Winter 2016 runway show. It takes a line from the film Pretty Woman (1990), when a snobbish saleswoman at a high-end clothing store dismisses the story’s protagonist. According to Abloh, the statement serves as a “manifesto on how the modern girl doesn’t really work on convention.” The phrase also comments on Abloh’s journey into the predominantly white world of high fashion. Abloh has cultivated close relationships with black cultural producers who act by turns as mentors and collaborators. For this work, the artist Arthur Jafa acquired a screen grab of Abloh FaceTiming his friend the rapper Theophilus London, presenting an expanding network of peers and collaborators. With the 2013 launch of Off-White in Milan, Abloh challenged the elite fashion industry’s long-standing exclusion of black talent. Abloh marketed Off-White prominently on social media, appealing to a younger, more diverse generation of consumers. Off-White campaigns have celebrated black artists, athletes, and musicians, providing a platform and affirming their identity as creators in their own right. In 2018, Abloh assumed the role of Men’s Artistic Director at Louis Vuitton, becoming one of the few black designers to helm a major Parisian fashion house. He now uses his high- profile platform to forge a more inclusive vision for high fashion. This section presents Abloh’s fashion and artworks that reflect on black cultural experiences in the United States. Coming of Age Nike Boylan Catholic High SchoolVirgil Abloh gifted The Boylan Catholic Titan’s one-of-a-kind kits (This was his alma mater)Equinox Funding of Cancer Research Worked with Equinox to put up garments (“the Scrubs Sweatsuit,” inspired by the surgical scrubs worn by oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering) for auction, with proceeds going to Cycle for Survival—a movement to beat rare cancer. Melting Passes at Off-White Show Invited the Melting Passes Social Studies Social Studies is a three-day education and retail pop-up experience exclusively developed by Baque Creative.

To imagine the future is to live in the moment: alternating between the collective and the personal this studio uses play to explore process, sequence and the prospective city. By means of experiential fragments, on-site models and code, this course will encourage a work-in-progress culture and a reinvention of the 1:1. To fully understand something we need to build it ourselves.
As the cultural theorist J. Huizinga outlined in his seminal book “Homo Ludens” (1938), play embodies freedom and has the extraordinary capacity to exist beyond everyday life. Yet at the same time the arena, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis-court, the court of justice are all in form and function playgrounds. The studio will step in and out of the magic circle using play as our medium to speculate about the future city and the lives we will lead. Play is never just play.
We challenge the notion that play is superfluous, that instead it lies at the very heart of invention and change. The order intrinsic to play gives it an aesthetic dimension we will formalise, experience and narrate. Play is beautiful.
Each project throughout the year will address 3 issues: Play, Structure and the 1:1.2018 Louis Vuitton Fall-Winter 2019 Precollection (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired)Transcending cultures and national boundaries, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an inspiration for the people of the planet. As Virgil Abloh, an African-American, settles into his role as artistic director at the venerable French House of Louis Vuitton, King’s message represents a powerful statement of what brings us together.
Today, the men’s Fall-Winter 2019 Precollection reinterprets that message on a selection of menswear creations. By reinterpreting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words as impactful graphic motifs, these exclusive pieces are a celebration of his timeless call for freedom..2018Princess Diana British Lung Foundation Inspired by Princess Diana, Part of a series of special T-shirts, where the proceeds will be donated to the British Lung Foundation.Princess Diana American Red Cross Inspired by Princess Diana, Part of a series of special T-shirts, where the proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross.Nike Global The Ten Activations Curated Designer Workshops + Lectures in tandem with the “TEN COLLECTION” in New York, London, and Paris Nike Equality Campaign Created a T-shirt with Nike for a “Equality” campaign, which was a project that promoted the belief that respect and equality should be seen on and off the playing field. FAMILY (Warchild)Contributed a graphic tee with all proceeds going to the War Child charity — a non-governmental organization founded in the UK in 1993 which provides assistance to children in areas experiencing conflict and the aftermath of conflict.Melting Passes (Nike Soccer kits for refugees) Collaborated with Vogue and Nike to create Nike Soccer Kits for African Refugees in France.Virgil Abloh x Jenny Holzer (Planned Parenthood)Three limited edition T-shirts via. a collaboration between Jenny Holzer and Virgil Abloh were sold to benefit Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.Chicago CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny collective)Creation of a fashion program for at-risk Chicago Youth. Provided support to South-Side Chicago youth in order for them to obtain employment, with the goal of being able taxonomically be self reliant.NYCB Three American Pieces, costumes by Virgil Abloh of Off-White™Social Studies Established by Baque Creative, Shaniqwa Jarvis and Something Special Studios, Social Studies was launched during Miami Art Basel 2017. The three-day, experiential event was created to empower and educate youth through creative, community-driven programming supported by brand and artist engagement. Occupying a multi-use space within Miami’s Design District, Social Studies served as a hub of culture and information, where each creative partner’s space was decorated to reflect one subject domain from American high school. In addition to pop-ups from brands such as 032c, Union, Awake, Some Ware, and No Vacancy Inn, Social Studies featured a book launch by Shaniqwa Jarvis and a series of educational programs and curatorial workshops led by Angelo Baque, Virgil Abloh, Chris Gibbs of Union Los Angeles, Tremaine Emory and Acyde of No Vacancy Inn, Cali Dewitt, Online Ceramics, Heron Preston, and more.Black Owned Project with Cali Dewitt2017

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *