In a fashion landscape that at times feels monotonous, conservative and predictable, it was an honor to have witnessed the work of someone as dynamic as Virgil Abloh.
Whether you were a dedicated fanatic or a neutral observer, it was undeniable that his career was both defiant and disruptive, trailblazing and remarkable. In 2017, reflecting on his 2009 arrival on the Paris fashion scene (alongside Kanye West), Abloh told W magazine, “We were a generation that was interested in fashion and weren’t supposed to be there. We saw this as our chance to participate and make current culture. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were bringing more excitement than the industry was.”
Having studied both civil engineering and architecture, and experimented with a million different mediums, Abloh was dazzlingly multidisciplinary in his approach. It was obvious he was thinking about more than just product — and so he made things that reflected this. Not just clothes, but everything else that makes up a culture, and a life, from luxury signifiers such as Nike sneakers and Mercedes-Benz cars to everyday items such as an IKEA furniture collection and a recycled plastic water bottle for Evian. He collaborated with everyone from West to the Musée du Louvre. One of his most celebrated achievements was, of course, his appointment to creative director of Louis Vuitton.
Senam Attipoe, an aspiring doctor and fashion writer in Maryland, said, “That was a really important day. He made history, he was the first Black person to hold that position … and for him to have been from Ghana, like me, it completely broke the ceiling of what I thought was possible.
“He was exactly what I want to be — inspired and inspiring. Multihyphenate, multidisciplinary, bound by nothing.”
This story of Abloh inspiring a young creative is not an isolated one. It is one in a sea of thousands. He has raised a generation of young creatives of color, especially young Black creatives, who are cross-disciplinary, rebellious and unstoppable. Alaweya Rizgalla, a fashion enthusiast who is also studying economics, said, “Virgil has been a consistent figure in making fashion a possibility … his approach to fashion was not only incredibly refreshing, from Been Trill to Pyrex to Louis Vuitton menswear, but always felt accessible to me as a young Black fashion enthusiast.”
Sara Sayad, an architecture graduate-turned-fashion designer, also reflected that “Virgil’s fusion of the architectural and fashion landscape was a silver lining while I studied architecture. He inspired me to chase my dreams in both fields at the same time, because his works were proof it was possible.”
And this inspiration was not just in the abstract. It was practical, and it was material — he made an effort to reach out and support young people coming up. In July 2020, Abloh announced the creation of his “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, raising a million dollars to support the next generation of Black fashion industry leaders. On his website, he created a resource center for brands in their earliest phases to uplift those who were just starting out in this notoriously difficult business.
Over the past few days, Twitter has been flooded with moving stories from emerging designers, artists and models sharing how Abloh had personally supported or reached out to them, and made their dreams feel a little more possible. Just last year, I was part of a small team (along with Attipoe) that created the viral High Fashion Twitter Met Gala. Abloh took the time to tweet his support for what we were doing. That is something I will carry in my heart and treasure forever.
This dedication to not only breaking boundaries but also making sure other people could follow will be one of the most valuable parts of his legacy. In an industry founded on exclusion, Abloh’s art transcended codes and boundaries. He was always willing to reach out a hand to help others do the same.
“He achieved and turned around and told everyone behind him how he did it,” Attipoe said. “I think that’s one of the most important things he did. Whatever comes next will be because of him.”