Tribute to Virgil Abloh : 15 years in the life of the streetwear prodigy

December 19, 2021 11 min read

Tribute to Virgil Abloh : 15 years in the life of the streetwear prodigy

Virgil Abloh - Impact and evolution of the glorious American fashion designer

Initiator of the post-streetwear movement, founder of the Off-White brand and master of heavy graphics: Virgil Abloh's signature is everywhere. As an avid collector of urban vintage, he's joining the big leagues. Today, celebrities are snapping up his black and white diagonal stripes.

Virgil Abloh is no more, but his departure has left a deep emotion in the artistic sphere. In a very short period of time, he made his mark on the fashion scene with his revolutionary ideas and unerring flair. At only 41 years old, he turned the perception of 90's urban fashion upside down, and won numerous awards reinforcing his position in the streetwear community.

As a tribute to Virgil Abloh, one of the best designers of modern times, here is a little recap of the highlights of his career

Who is Virgil Abloh, legendary streetwear designer ?

Virgil Abloh

Born into a family of Ghanaian immigrants, Virgil Abloh grew up in Illinois in the 1980s. He and his sister settled in an environment that encouraged art and creativity. He learned the basics of sewing and design from his mother, who was a seamstress, while his father ran a painting business.

As part of the internet generation, he prides himself on having taste before money. You see, being an artist is a whole. His business was international: Virgil Abloh lived in LA, Off-White is based in Milan, and he had several stores in Tokyo. With time zones as far apart as these, it's not a stretch to label him an insomniac.

So this design enthusiast had a very busy life, but always found time for his entertainment. Even though he taught online courses in streetwear, sewing and design, nothing prevented him from becoming a DJ in his spare time.

His career development is particularly interesting. He took advantage of a loophole in the system to enter the fashion world, and has since cracked the code to get through the levels. Compared to his first edition of recycled T-shirts, and his grotesque logo-laden collections, his latest creations are more refined, more mature, while keeping the brand's distinguished touch.

His unique style has earned him collaborations with major brands, including Nike, Levi's and even McDonald's. Sometimes revisiting old collections, sometimes working on projects for flagship pieces, he was in demand from all sides.

In fact, his influence was felt on luxury brands such as Gucci, Dior, Balenciaga, Supreme and Louis Vuitton. He had a keen eye for new trends, a quality worth its weight in gold in the industry.

Career and evolution: Virgil Abloh's string of successes

Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh, a proud African-American icon, is one of the best artistic designers of the last decade. He stands out from the crowd because of his career path, his accomplishments, but most of all because of his vision of the world.

In the space of 15 years, he has truly revolutionized urban fashion. Let's rewind the film to better understand the story of this successful designer

 

2006 : The reconversion of an architect

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in civil engineering in 2002, Virgil Abloh studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. For him, it's a vehicle to get closer to his true calling. He said he wanted to build skyscrapers because if you could complete such a large work, you could also design the finest designs.

In his senior year, he took his first art history class. Discovering the splendor of the Renaissance and the talent of Italian painters was a real eye-opener. Referring to the works of the Italian painter Caravaggio, he says, "It made my head spin back. I had spent so much time thinking about the practicalities that I had almost forgotten the beauty of art.

In the meantime, Virgil works at Custom Kings, a printing and customization corner. There, he meets an unexpected person, Kanye West. The rapper quickly recognizes the artistic quality of his interlocutor, and he succumbs to the charm of his designs.

Bottom line: Abloh missed his architecture graduation speech because he had a meeting with Kanye West's manager. Ironically, they started working together right afterwards on the graphics and merchandising for his next album, Graduation.

 

2007 : A designer against the grain

virgil abloh an outstanding designer

Having taken an interest in the fashion industry, Virgil Abloh occasionally appears on the blog The Briliance. On many occasions, he questioned the politics of the leaders of the fashion industry. In particular, he criticized the poor design and materials used by Gucci.

In 2007, he openly proclaimed that change was needed, and that the new generation was ready to take over. In his eyes, fashion has never been as in as it is now: "I am totally in tune with this new era where designers have become the new rock stars.

 

2009 : A legend in the making

Increasingly captivated by the world of streetwear, Virgil Abloh began to work on his own skills. In 2009, he took an internship at the famous brand Fendi in Rome. Working alongside Kanye West, he continued his internship for 6 months during which he approached fashion from a new angle. Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke says he was impressed with the development of the two young stars, and that he was captivated by Virgil's potential.

It was a great time when a photographer captured the two fashion enthusiasts at the Comme des Garçons show in Paris. Recalling that event, Virgil Abloh remembers feeling like he was part of a generation that wasn't supposed to be interested in fashion, and wasn't welcome. He says he took the opportunity to attend the event to finally embrace a certain culture. Ultimately, he and Kanye felt they had more energy and anticipation than those who were already a part of it.

That same year, Abloh launched a concept store in Chicago under the name "RSVP Gallery." It was the designer's first major project, which in addition to being a store, acted as an impromptu art gallery.

 

2010 : The union of Kanye West and Virgil Abloh

In 2010, Virgil officially became creative director at DONDA WEST. This creative content and design company, founded by Kanye West, is named after his mother. It aims to allow creative minds to come together and work on a common goal. The agency remains very discreet about its projects. In fact, it was only announced to the general public in 2012

 

2011 : Virgil Abloh's first major project

kanye west and jay-z watch the trone album cover

Well acquainted with the rapper scene, Virgil Abloh is asked to design Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch The Throne album. He won a Grammy nomination as art director for the design he created for the album cover.

2012 : The birth of a new passion

For Virgil Abloh, luxury streetwear designer, 2012 was a year where he really started to blossom. What had definitely made him decide to pursue his design career was the launch of Balenciaga's first steps into urban fashion.

He was particularly struck by a graphic T-shirt that had a sphinx engraved on it with the phrase "JOIN A WEIRD TRIP". Pure streetwear with a high fashion label.

Identifying with this new movement where the barriers between the big brands and the young creatives were beginning to disappear, he is convinced that his voice can carry far. That's why, in less than a year, he launched his next project: the Pyrex Vision label, in Chicago.

pyrex vision

His first collection is causing a lot of controversy. Virgil Abloh took an old stock of Ralph Lauren rugby shirts, customized them on the back with basically his brand emblem and the number 23, and resold them at more than 20 times their original value.

Was it a stroke of genius or a lack of creativity? Opinions differ. That said, despite his detractors, the fashion designer's first venture was a great success.

In parallel, he diversified his income and performed as a hip-hop DJ. On the other hand, he joined the Been Trill collective where great creative minds meet to concoct new concepts and track the evolution of streetwear trends. He will be at the origin of the Yankees cap released by the group the following year.

 

2013 : The peak of Virgil Abloh's design career

virgil abloh

Once his first experiment was successful, Virgil Abloh was ready to get down to business. Pyrex Vision was just the beta version of Off-White, the real streetwear brand of the American designer.

The name of the brand would refer to the zone of uncertainty, as nothing is all black and white, but everything is positioned on a wide spectrum of shades. Virgil Abloh's products are most often recognizable by their logo. Black-on-white diagonal stripes or vice versa are slowly gaining popularity in the art scene.

Similarly, Virgil likes to play with the idea that everything can be questioned. That's why he likes to label his creations with obvious titles, always between two large quotation marks.

According to the ingenious designer, it's his way of challenging the status quo and making his audience ponder on the perception we have of things. We see it on one of his shoes where he clearly indicates the "Laces" and "Sole" in bold type.

off-white sneakers

Another characteristic of Off-White creations is their adaptability and degree of adjustability via specially designed fasteners. This is part of the charm of these urban attributes, and what makes them a little more practical in everyday life. On the other hand, it camouflages the raw and industrial character of its designs.

More than a brand, Off-White is Virgil Abloh's favorite little project. Despite this, he knows he's not immune to criticism, and that he'll one day be passed off as a trite, overpriced and woefully uninspired brand. Such are the risks of the job when you start in fashion design, especially in a booming niche like streetwear

 

2014 : From transition to transition

the off-white brand

Still in the midst of experimentation, Virgil Abloh is giving it his all on the 2014 Off-White collections. Aiming to be more inclusive, he ventures into an area that is not entirely his expertise, women's streetwear. He's been churning out novelty combos by touching on new materials. His spring/summer collection stood out with its denim sublimated by the brand's logo. He perfected his design on the last collection of the year, "Moving Still". Finally, 2014 was also the year of the release of the album "Yeezus". In other words, Virgil gives his longtime friend another shot on his album cover

 

2015 : Efforts are paying off

Beyonce in Off-White

After several years devoted to his professional project, the name of Virgil Abloh was on everyone's lips. His talent is highlighted in the video for the song "Feeling myself" by Nicki Minaj, where Beyonce wears a T-shirt signed Off-White. We also spot her with her leather jacket bearing the name of the brand at a basketball game.

The hoodie of the budding artist, inspired by his idol Caravaggio, attracts a certain Justin Bieber already very fan of him. To end on a high note, his creations also earned him 3rd place in the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Award. One more step towards success!

 

2016 :  Projects are gaining momentum

No one dares to pretend to be international without having conquered the Asian market. Especially not in urban fashion anyway. That's why Virgil Abloh is setting up his brand new concept store in Tokyo. On the program, galleries, exhibitions, but also free distribution of cups adorned with the Off-White logo that sell like hotcakes.

A small additional novelty, the Off-White accessories. We particularly think of the ultra-cool version of the construction belt which is a hit..

off-white accessories

Obviously, another year, a new Kanye West album coming up. What stands out the most this time are the T-shirts of the concert "The Life Of Pablo", made by our rising star.

2017 : A busy year of artistic projects

As a versatile artist, Virgil Abloh has worked on countless projects. It's safe to say he really outdid himself in 2017. After all, it was the year he :

  • Organized a collaborative exhibition with the one and only Takashi Murakami at the Gagosian Gallery;
  • Collaborated with conceptual artist Jenny Holzer on a most amazing exhibition in Florence;
  • Commemorated the 20th anniversary of Lady Diana's death at Paris Fashion Week;
  • Opened its very first store in New York!

And that's not all! 2017 was also the year when Virgil Abloh conveyed his values through his projects. In fact, he created a collection to fight racism and highlight the benefits of globalization, immigration and cultural mixing in the wake of Donald Trump's election. He also supported the Women's March on Washington in partnership with Planned Parenthood to promote women's rights and access to abortion in the United States.

On the other hand, he has discovered a new passion for interior design. In addition to launching a collection with Ikea, he's been working on his own Off-White home line. His extravagant designs are inspired by modern furniture designs.

off-white home

Still working on his Nike projects, he's also working with Rimowa on transparent travel cases to reinforce (and speed up) airport security protocols. And yes, we wouldn't expect anything less from our little prodigy.

After years of proving himself, we feel that Virgil Abloh has finally found his own way. An approach that has been rightly recognized and rewarded. The same year, he received the British Fashion Award and the title of best designer of GQ to crown it all.

 

2018 : The streetwear designer arrives at Louis Vuitton

In 2018, Virgil Abloh was named artistic director of the Louis Vuitton men's line: a real victory since he is the first black personality to hold such a position! Without exaggeration, this is one of the few representatives of the black community to head a major fashion house.

His first collection was launched on June 21, 2018 at the Palais Royal, an exceptional performance where he and his female artistic director counterpart Nicolas Ghesquière were congratulated at length.

Seduced by France, Virgil also becomes creative advisor for the Evian brand. Fun fact, he is at the origin of 2 water bottle designs that are available since 2019.

evian bottle virgil abloh

Third French strike, the young artist elaborates the design of a pair of shoes, the Nike Mercurial Vapor, especially for Kylian Mbappé on the occasion of the League Cup 2018. Still in the sports category, again on a legendary black athlete, Abloh proposes himself for the design of Serena Williams' outfit for the final of the U.S. Open.

2019 : A nostalgia without equal

After years of hard work, we learn in 2019 that Virgil Abloh is close to burnout. Not surprising with a schedule as saturated as his own. To recharge his batteries, he commits to less demanding projects.

He opened a bookstore in the 1st arrondissement of Paris where he distributed free books and magazines from his friends at Louis Vuitton. He also organized an exhibition on the theme of Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre.

Although not a big fan of rock, Virgil is also involved in the design of T-shirts for the 30th anniversary of the first Guns N' Roses album. He also released his own music and became a DJ in a night club in Las Vegas.

In another major achievement, Virgil Abloh was named to Time magazine's list of the world's most influential people. Off-White is positioned well ahead of Gucci and Balenciaga, antique luxury brands.

Virgil abloh

Nevertheless, he feels that his career in streetwear will soon come to an end. In his interview with Dazed, he reveals that urban fashion is drawing its last breath. This escape from self-expression would soon be replaced by a vintage style that would allow everyone to display a facet of their personality as they please.

2020 : The great return of the architect spirit

What better way to start the year than with an exhibition at one of the world's most influential design galleries? Head to Paris for an unforgettable day at Galerie Kreo. Virgil Abloh puts on his designer gloves just for the occasion.

In addition to the Off-White creations, he took care of the decor for an immersive experience. The walls of the room were perforated in such a way as to transport visitors outside, or rather to invite the street inside. Add to that the splendor of Off-White's Spring/Summer Men's collection, and we're well on our way to an extraordinary exhibition. 

2021 : A streetwear light goes out

After secretly fighting it for 2 consecutive years, Virgil Abloh succumbs to an extremely rare heart cancer on November 28, 2021. Louis Vuitton are the first to announce the sad news of the 41-year-old star's death on social media. He had made his last public appearance in early November for his "Figures of Speech" exhibition, not far from Christian Dior's, as part of the "Qatar Creates" initiative in Doha.

A final fashion show was held in his name to pay tribute to him on December 1. Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke took the initiative to unveil the Spring/Summer 2022 collection on the catwalk near the Marine Stadium in Miami. After working 3 years on this concept by his side, the event was named "Virgil was here" in honor of the young designer who left too soon

His words at a Harvard University lecture on the concepts of design, branding and business in modern times are still fresh in our minds. "I believe in the power of the visual, so it was amazing to see someone like me go down a non-traditional path and be so successful," says the 29-year-old urban fashion icon.

He leaves this world as a talented visionary, who knew how to follow his dream to the end. A source of inspiration that truly embodies the values of urban fashion.


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