Virgil Abloh, fashion designer, dies at the age of 41 after a private battle with cancer: NPR

Designer Virgil Abloh died on Sunday aged 41 after battling a rare form of cancer. The founder of the Off-White label and artistic director of Louis Vuitton Menswear was considered a visionary.


The fashion designer Virgil Abloh died of a rare cancer. He was a luminary. He founded the Off-White label. He was the Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton Menswear and turned streetwear into high fashion. I spoke to Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR this morning.

Good morning, Karen.


KING: So he was very different from a lot of fashion designers, wasn’t he?

BATES: He was. I spoke to Booth Moore. She is the editor-in-chief of the Bible Women’s Wear Daily fashion industry on the west coast. And she pointed out that Abloh was a trailblazer. She says his entry into fashion was unique.

BOOTH MOORE: It came about through pop culture, not through traditional design channels. And he was very good at bridging the gaps between different disciplines. He was a DJ himself and had a huge following on social media before he got into fashion. And so he really changed the image of a fashion designer.

BATES: He also has degrees in civil engineering and architecture. And Moore said that because of this non-linear entry into fashion, Abloh is a huge inspiration for younger creatives.

KING: And what did that look like?

BATES: Well, Virgil Abloh, with his company Off-White, was one of the early adopters of streetwear and the transition from streetwear to fashion. Others would eventually follow, but he was way ahead of them. Here’s Booth Moore again.

MOORE: He had this clever way of labeling things on his line where, you know, the real name of the thing was like a shoe or a hoodie. And so this mysticism arose around the objects.

KING: He also had very close professional relationships with Kanye West and Jay-Z, and that collaboration was incredibly important. Tell us why.

BATES: Yes, collaboration was really one of the most important lines in his work. He fused pop culture with haute couture, and he took much of its influences from what young people wore and interested in. In addition to working with celebrities, Abloh has worked with companies like Nike, Evian and the chic outerwear company Moncler. He designed furniture for IKEA and had a major exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London with the artist Takashi Murakami, whose own work is saturated with pop culture references. I mean he was everywhere.

KING: He was everywhere. IKEA – I had no idea. What do you think, what will Mr. Abloh be remembered for in the end?

BATES: I asked Booth Moore about it and she answered immediately.

MOORE: Virgil was a catalyst for much of what is now expected in the industry and is slowly arriving.

BATES: And you know, Noel, the New York Times says Virgil Abloh’s role in LVMH, quote, “made him the most powerful black manager in the world’s most powerful luxury corporation.” In an industry that is still struggling with race and diversity, his death will leave a huge void that will be really difficult to fill.

KING: Karen Grigsby Bates, senior correspondent for NPR podcast Code Switch. Thanks, Karen.

BATES: You’re welcome.


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