“I grew up feeling that design wasn’t for me, because I didn’t see anyone like me in design.”
Ghanaian-American designer, architect, artist, and trailblazer Virgil Abloh tragically passed away from cancer on Sunday November 28, 2021, at the age of 41.
Abloh was a designer's designer, and famously declared "I don't believe in disciplines," which allowed him to design virtually anything and everything, including: clothing, shoes, accessories, homegoods, books, luggage, perfume, wines and spirits, hotels, cafes, cars, games, music, and more.
"Relevancy is my metric."
He was best-known for his own label Off-White and as the Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton's menswear, and just this past summer Abloh became the most powerful Black executive at the most powerful luxury goods group in the world, LVMH. For those working in design and/or DE&I it was a momentous occasion, with Abloh himself declaring "I'm getting a seat at the table."
Abloh is irreplaceable and the loss immense by so many metrics, but we sincerely hope that his pioneering work in both design and inclusion will continue at LVMH and beyond, and that many more Black creatives will get the proverbial seat at the table.
All life is transient and fleeting, but Abloh's designs will surely persist. Here is a look at some of his most notable work:
Abloh himself was a DJ, but he also designed the famously minimalistic yet impactful Yeezus CD cover; he also influenced a number of other album covers, including Ye's Watch the Throne and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as well as A$AP Rocky's Long.Live.A$AP and Lil Uzi Vert's Luv is Rage 2.
Abloh designed a game called Endless Runner for Louis Vuitton where people could virtually traverse the streets of New York, as well as a game called OFFKAT where the player's paint urban environments with graffiti while avoiding police. Perhaps the most compelling "game" that Abloh designed was a mass mentorship program called FREE-GAME that the designer gamified in order to help other Black creatives succeed.
Abloh collaborated with Mercedes-Benz Chief Design Officer on a custom G-Class that has a completely redesigned exterior and interior.
Although Abloh was an architect by training, he was just getting back into designing spaces. Tentative projects were announced for some of LVMH's 50+ hotels, but one of the most notable finished spaces was the Off-White x Wild & the Moon Cafe in Le Bon Marché.
Wines & Spirits
LVMH owns around 30 alcohol brands and was planning to tap Abloh's creative genius for those properties as well, with the Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial Rosé hinting at a more contemporary and meta design language.
Abloh approached his perfume collaboration with Byredo stating "This is my first time designing something invisible."
For Abloh's collaboration with Rimowa, the designer developed a see-through carry-on suitcase to help celebrate the brand's 120th year anniversary. Abloh studied the art of travel as well as the concept of one's "personal belongings" to develop his design.
Abloh was not only versatile and prolific, but also highly intellectual and empathetic. Here are some additional highlights from his career:
-His signature quotation marks were not just for aesthetic reasons but to also highlight and challenge peoples' perceptions of social norms
-He pushed the boundaries of gender with Kid Cudi on SNL by dressing the rapper in a floral dress designed by Off-White in a tribute to Kurt Cobain
-He established the Postmodern Scholarship Fund to help Black students and promote diversity in fashion
-He used illustration and design to advocate for justice specifically for Breonna Taylor and for Black people as a whole
-He created a line of clothing focusing on the international refugee crisis and immigration after Trump became president
-He designed jerseys for the Melting Passes soccer team in Paris, comprised primarily of immigrants from West Africa
-He helped build a skate park in Ghana and helped bring Ghanaian culture to the world stage
Virgil Abloh was a true original and was known as the most powerful Black creative in design, but we know that Abloh would want to uplift other Black creatives and designers as well. We hope that we can all carry on his mission to make design more diverse, inclusive, and equitable.