Virgil Abloh
Virgil and the waves – our tribute

Virgil and the waves – our tribute

A week ago, on Sunday 28 November, after the news of Virgil Abloh’s death broke, tributes from the industry flooded social media.

The entire global creative community was in shock and struggled for words. Words that revealed that not only an exceptionally good creative, but above all an unusually wonderful human being had been lost all of a sudden.

A week after his death, we felt the need not to just move on, but to do our small part to remember this man, perhaps learn from him and listen to people who knew him.

“I’m not a designer,” Abloh once said, opening the doors to the ivory tower of luxury fashion to a broader group of creatives and reinventing the role of creative director throughout his career.

Born on the outskirts of Chicago to Ghanaian parents and trained as an architect, Abloh’s path to fashion was atypical. He studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before earning a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology and counted Mies Van der Rohe and Rem Koolhaas among his role models.

Imran Amed, founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion, said last week: “When Virgil came into the fashion industry, he wasn’t universally embraced. Through sheer perspicacity, discipline, boundless energy and creativity he made it to the very top – and did so on his own terms.”

A Miami billboard on the 29th of November

Abloh was first recognised for his work in the fashion industry when he began working as Kanye West’s creative director. The duo interned together at Fendi which put Abloh finally on the LVMH radar.

He launched his first line, Pyrex, in 2012 before teaming up with the company that became New Guards Group to launch Off-White a year later – a brand that went through the roof. Off-White’s sales quickly surpassed the $100 million mark and Abloh became a key tastemaker for a new generation of consumers.

Abloh’s influence reached a new level in March 2018 when he replaced Kim Jones as artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, becoming the first black designer to take the creative reins at one of the industry’s biggest megabrands.

“You can do it too …” read the caption under his first Instagram post following his Louis Vuitton debut.

“Virgil believed that everything is possible and radiated this belief authentically. There was an intangible, fearless energy and at the same time a very special calm that emanated from him,” says Nikolaus Ronacher, an independent Creative Director, who directed a film and photo production with Virgil Abloh for Rimowa in 2018.

“The appreciation and concentration he gave me in the exchange had a very special quality that you only experience very rarely. And I think most people who dealt with him felt the same way I did. He was simply a gift by his very nature.”

Nikolaus Ronacher and Virgil Abloh on the NYC set in 2018
Nikolaus and Virgil ...
... on the set

Experiencing him on set, Ronacher says, was an extraordinary experience because Abloh organized his work and life to the use of an iPhone. “He only worked with the phone, did everything over the phone, drew sketches and sent them out, commented on drafts, chatted, all in one go. Even directly during filming, he only put his mobile phone aside when the next take was shot seconds later. Then he was super-present and delivered on the spot.”

“Doing a lot of things at the same time makes me feel alive.”, Abloh told Nikolaus Ronacher. In the interview that Ronacher conducted with Abloh as part of the Rimowa project, he also said that traveling for him feels like the continents have long since slid together because he does it so often. He usually used the flights to sleep, Abloh mentioned to Ronacher, if only because the usually slow wifi on board made working almost impossible and he could justify the break for himself.

In July 2021, LVMH solidified its relationship with Abloh, acquiring a majority stake in Off-White and handing Abloh an unprecedented new role that spanned the entire LVMH portfolio.

On Tuesday 30 November in Miami, the Louis Vuitton runway show that Abloh had been planning for months took place without him, presenting his Spring-Summer 2022 collection.

Those in attendance included Kanye West, the entire Arnault family, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Pharrell Williams and his family, Venus Williams, Jürgen Teller and many, many more. It is unlikely that this will be the last award for Abloh, who was of course also honoured at last week’s British Fashion Awards in London.

Finally, it is to be hoped that the fashion and creative industry will honour Abloh’s legacy by remaining open to newcomers, people from outside the industry and creatives who are able to transcend and reinterpret the industry for the better. Playful, intelligent and beyond profits.

“The world produces waves. Surf or drown. You decide.” – that’s what a handwritten note by Virgil Abloh from 2017 read, posted by Hans Ulrich Obrist on Instagram last week.

The world has lost a wonderful surfer – let’s nevertheless ride the next waves fearlessly.


December 5, 2021

The Educated Cool

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