Barrier-breaking designer Virgil Abloh passes away at age 41

Christopher Vargelis

Virgil Abloh, who transformed the fashion industry through his work as Louis Vuitton’s Moet Hennesy (LVMH) artistic director and as chief executive officer of his own brand, Off-White, passed away from cardiac angiosarcoma cancer on Sunday, Nov. 28. Abloh was known for his thought-prov

Wearing a suit with his signature incorporation of words, Abloh poses at the 2021 Met Gala. (Photo courtesy of John Shearer, Wire Image)

oking designs and his controversial 3 percent rule: you can create a new design by changing the original by only 3 percent. 

As a top artistic director for LVMH, Abloh was a powerful Black designer in an industry that has historically failed to integrate people of color. He aimed to represent a young audience by undermining traditional fashion rules and maintaining a connection with pop culture.

 “I take pride in the fact that there’s a kid who’s living in Alabama, who never thought something like this was possible for him … But, all of a sudden, because I’m here, he knows [he can do it too],” Abloh said in a 2018 GQ interview.

Senior Gregory Soloviev, who has been a fan of Abloh ever since he discovered Off-White in 2016, predicts that the price of the brand’s products will increase significantly following Abloh’s death.

“Now that he’s gone, there’s no more that’s going to come from Virgil,” Soloviev said. “It gives more exclusivity to his brand … [that] was the trademark of his brand.”

Senior Jack Piediscalzi, an avid follower of Abloh and who recently purchased a pair of Off-White sneakers, offered similar sentiments.

“The value of the clothes is definitely going to appreciate. We’ll have to see how his team takes over and deals with new seasons; maybe they discontinue Off-White to make it really a legacy,” Piediscalzi said.

Abloh was also a major influence on 2020 Redwood alum Chandler Moseley, an aspiring fashion designer. Moseley considered Abloh a role model in the industry.

“Before I even saw [his designs], I was also thinking about why some pieces [of clothing] catch on and others fall behind. Seeing [how] that idea was validated through each of his collections was so important and influential through everything I’ve designed,” Moseley said. “Virgil came up with this new vocabulary for fashion and was using it to challenge people’s opinions on what fashion is meant to do. It’s more than the clothing; [it’s] what message is being sent.”

Moseley was especially inspired by Abloh’s ability to combine streetwear with luxury clothing and his focus on the underlying motivations behind fashion. Abloh often directly confronted his audience with experimental projects, like Pyrex Vision, which sold deadstock Ralph Lauren shirts with the word “pyrex” printed on them for a significantly hiked price.

“It always puzzled me how he could make something as simple as quotation marks [expensive]. It weaves into this whole question of what makes something fashionable,” Moseley said.

The Nike Air Force 1 MCA University Blue sneakers feature quotations and a red zip tie tag, two of Abloh’s signature designs. (Photo courtesy of Off-White)

Piediscalzi was also interested in Abloh’s unique style and especially how different design elements were incorporated with Off-White sneakers. Off-White shoes feature a zip-tie intended to be left on the shoe and often have the shoe’s name printed in quotations on the midsole.

“He took [a] concept, like putting the word shoelaces in quotations [on shoelaces], and he put that on the final product to give it an industrial look,” Piediscalzi said.

Abloh pushed beyond traditional fashion norms, introducing a more abstract aesthetic into his work. He applied this aesthetic to all aspects of his reach in the fashion world.

It’s a device, it’s a contextualization of a word without getting into the design. It was always meant for that. I can be literal and figurative at the same time,” Abloh explained in a 2019 interview with Fast Company.

Moseley appreciated Abloh’s close relationship with streetwear and his commitment to his philosophy regardless of the brand he worked for or the position he held.

“When he joined Louis Vuitton, he [showed] that fashion started caring more about its message and its intent. I don’t think Louis Vuitton would’ve been able to reach the audience it had without him,” Moseley said, “Virgil was the millennial generation’s Chanel.”