Virgil Abloh: The Renaissance Man

May 4, 2022

Fashion Designer, Entrepreneur, Architect, Creative Director, DJ, and (fill in the blank) Virgil Abloh is the ultimate definition of a renaissance man.

The 41-year-old Ghanaian American born to immigrant parents from Rockford, Illinois, on the outskirts of Chicago, is what the American dream is made of. Virgil accomplished in one lifetime more than the average person would accomplish in three, if not more. Tragically, the gifted jack of all trade’s life was cut short by the devastating effects of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that the genius chose to fight privately over the last couple of years.

Virgil’s influence transformed fashion and popular culture, making him arguably the most influential figure of this generation. The world was brought to its knees as the news of his unexpected death spread throughout countless news outlets and social media platforms on November 28, 2021. Family, friends, colleagues, and admirers all shared the multitude of ways his work impacted and changed their lives.

The fact that he touched so many with his vision is a true testament to Virgil’s gift.

The Off-White founder and Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton had a passion for all elements of street culture, from music and skateboarding to graffiti and fashion. This helped propel him to new heights early in his career after graduating with his Master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006. Soon after, Virgil interned at Fendi’s renowned fashion house and befriended a genius in his own right, Kanye West. This connection eventually led Mr. Abloh to collaborate with Don C, a fellow well-known streetwear designer in his hometown. They opened their first retail store/luxury street fashion brand, RSVP Gallery, while simultaneously being the head of Kanye’s creative agency, Donda.

Fast forward two years, not only was Virgil designing his first signature streetwear brand, the cult favorite Pyrex Vision, but he also lent his Artistic Director talents to Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, and A$AP Rocky for their respective projects.

Between the success of the aforementioned highly coveted brands and the notoriety of fashion houses like LVMH, he never took his finger off of music. As a DJ, Virgil helped to break many underground artists, even going as far as to feature their music during his runway shows in Paris; just ask Buffalo Rapstar Westside Gunn.

For years Virgil’s stock continued to rise to unattainable heights, especially for a Black man coming from the streets of Chicago. Yet, he never hesitated to use his influence and share the spotlight. His unlikely rise to prominence makes his journey even that much more special. Not only did architect turned DJ turned fashion designer get his own residency at the infamous Wynn in Las Vegas, but he also created new home goods for the international phenomenon Ikea, in addition to redesigning classic kicks for Nike and the Jordan Brand where he added his signature style and created new classics.

Virgil’s presence alone provided opportunities for Black Creators to follow in his footsteps and challenge the status quo, giving up and coming Black Designers a chance to showcase their talents and bring something innovative to established brands.

“Fashion and music are two great artistic forms that can be molded by the youth culture – our taste and our passion for evolving things in our limited time on earth allows us to look at things with fresh eyes.”

Virgil Abloh

He used every opportunity to push for equality and inclusion in an industry that looked at Black designers and minorities as second-class and would never be good enough to sit alongside fashion’s elite. Mr. Abloh was hell-bent on getting a seat at their table and bringing his “friends” along as well. “Diversity isn’t just a question of gender and ethnicity. It’s a question of experience. It brings new ideas to the table.” Virgil’s work showcased that this was bigger than just Milan fashion week and recognition from critics. His ultimate goal was to break every imaginary rule and continue creating without them.

He knew that flipping off the rules was the only true way to innovate.

Over the last decade, it’s been Virgil’s world, and we were just living in it. The world was his canvas. Anything he could dream of, he created. There was nothing off-limits, and this is what made him unique. Virgil used everything around him, art, music, fashion, architecture, and culture, to recreate the world as he saw it. A world that blurred the lines between masculinity and femininity, street and pop culture, social norms and the anti-status quo.

Virgil spent his energy making sure the unseen were indeed seen and that the rebels were on full display. He did not shy away from his Chicago roots which were embedded into everything he did. Virgil represented individuality and community simultaneously in a world that demands us to choose one over the other.

Virgil accomplished many of his dreams in his minimal time on earth. It’s saddening to think that he will never have the chance to reach his full potential, and we will never get an opportunity to witness it.

Nonetheless, Virgil Abloh’s supremacy will continue to live on through his works and through all of the people he touched with his gift. He inspired so many of us never to give up.

Us dreamers can clearly see ourselves in Virgil.

Quite honestly, we are Virgil.

A streetwear enthusiast, graffiti artist, rebel, and music-loving skateboarder who went against the grain as his way of making this world a better place, he represented the true essence of inner-city life, street culture, and what it means to be and live the American dream. Not only was Virgil a renaissance man, but Virgil was also one of us, and for that, we are forever grateful.

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