Despite no formal fashion design training, Virgil Abloh became one of the world's most celebrated and iconic designers of our time. Born in Rockford, Illinois, to Ghanaian parents, Virgil came from relatively humble beginnings. His father managed a paint company, and his mother was a seamstress who taught Virgil how to sew. Fast forward to 2006, Virgil had a degree in civil engineering and a Master of Architecture from IIT.
It was during Virgils' studies at IIT that a Rem Koolhaas building was completed. Koolhas had worked on runway collections for Prada, which - in Virgil’s words "piqued my interest and opened my gateway into fashion". Alongside his studies, Virgil dipped his toe into the fashion & design world. He designed T-shirts and wrote for popular publication, The Brilliance.
Virgil was a man that influenced many industries indefinitely! As the world pays tribute to Virgil, Culture Shift looks back at just 10 of the moments from his career.
A foot in the door: Fendi Internship
Starting in 2009, Virgil Abloh and Kayne West became interns at Fendi in Rome. According to reports, the pair were paid $500 per month for their services. Which included "every day, going to work, walking to work, getting cappuccinos", as described by West during an interview on Hot 97.
As a result it was his internship that Michael Burke – Louis Vuitton CEO – first encountered Virgil. Speaking on his experience with the dynamic duo during their time at Fendi, Burke explained: "I was really impressed with how [Abloh and West] brought a whole new vibe to the studio and were disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi. I have been following his career ever since."
Grammy worthy direction: Watch the Throne By Virgil
After they forged a friendship over a love of design and music, Virgil took on the role of creative director at Donda in 2010. The following year, Virgil art directed Jay-Z and Kanye's album, Watch the Throne. Virgil received a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package for his work on the project.
The start of something new: Pyrex Vision
2012 was the year that saw Virgil Abloh launch his first brand, Pyrex Vision. While a crossover between high-fashion and athleisure is nothing new, Pyrex Vision was one of the first of its kind. The collection, which included Champion tees, hoodies, basketball shorts, flannel shirts and socks, saw Virgil pay homage to his childhood hero, Michael Jordan, with the number 23 and the word Pyrex screen printed on them.
Unsuprisingly Virgil purchased deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts for $40 each to bring his designs to life. He then added his designs and sold them on for $550 apiece.
One of a kind: Virgil Abloh & Off-White
While not everyone may have heard of Pyrex Vision but the same can't be said for what came next from Virgil. Off-White, which Virgil described as "the grey area between black and white as the colour Off-White" to the fashion world. Gradually Virgil's new venture would soon become one of the globes hottest luxury brands. Off-White came with a design aesthetic based on diagonal lines and the iconography of American cities. Virgil Abloh successfully blended high-end materials with a familiar streetwear silhouette. With Off-White, a new era of high fashion was born.
Finally Paris Fashion Week in 2014 saw the brands first womenswear line debut. This was later selected as a finalist for the coveted LVMH Prize. As a result, Abloh worked his way into rooms with top designers and tastemakers within a rich and white industry.
Virgils' decades of DJing
Throughout his career, Virgil continuously bridged the gap between fashion and music. Virgil fused the two seamlessly from DJing at some of the world's most iconic venues and designing album artwork to heavily incorporating music into his fashion shows.
Speaking on DJing - a creative outlet he'd enjoyed since the late '90s - Virgil explained music offered him peace of mind; "When the phone is off, I play my favourite songs really loud for myself, and I'm not talking to anyone. I'm not managing anything. It's just like a time when I can listen to music… I'll be DJing after I'm done designing or doing anything else." [The Guardian, 2016].
Sneaker success: Nike x Off-White & Converse
With every year that came, Virgil continued to make waves in fashion, working with some of the world's biggest brands. Sneakerheads were surprised as Off-White partnered with Nike to redesign 10 of the brands best-selling and classic styles in 2017. While the trainers retailed at around $200, their resale value quickly rose to north of $1,000 thanks to an onslaught of celebrities rocking the collection.
From Fashion to Flatpack: Ikea x Off-White
As Virgil well and truly earned his stripes in both the fashion and music industry, 2019 was a year that saw Off-White step into new territory. One of those partnerships was with Swedish furniture giants Ikea. Ikea updated its trademark logo at their Wembley, London store to drop the limited home collection, putting its logo in Virgil's signature quotation marks. In an interview with Highsnobiety Virgil said the collection was inspired by his childhood relationship with furniture.
Crash together: Off-White x Musée du Louvre
October 2019 was the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death. To mark the occasion, Off-White partnered with the iconic French landmark for a capsule collection that celebrates the artist's life and works to mark the occasion. The exhibition saw Virgil design a range of T-shirts and hoodies complete with Off-White's signature logo intertwined with some of da Vinci's most famous paintings, including The Virgin, Child with Saint Anne and Virgin of the Rocks. Speaking on the collaboration, Virgil said: "I want to crash together these two worlds that are seemingly different: fashion and high art". He added, "It's a crucial part of my overall body of work to prove that any place, no matter how exclusive it seems, it's accessible to everyone."
G Wagon reimagined: Project Geländewagen
2020 was the year that saw Virgil work with Mercedes-Benz Chief Design Officer Gordon Wagener. The two industry leaders created the reimagined G Wagon. A replica of the design project was auctioned as part of Sotheby's Contemporary Curated, with all proceeds donated to a charity that supports the arts. With an estimated price tag of $60,000-80,000, the one-off design sold for an impressive $201,600.
LVMH: a seal of approval
As he continued to take the fashion world by storm, Virgil ascended to one of the industry's highest positions, becoming the artistic director of menswear at the world's biggest luxury house, Louis Vuitton. Virgil's new role made him the LVMH group's first-ever Black designer at the helm of a major brand.
July 2021 saw LVMH deepen its relationship with Virgil as the group acquired a 60 per cent stake in his now-iconic brand Off-White.
The Louis Vuitton men's spring/summer 2022 collection will mark Virgil’s final work for the luxury fashion house.
After all, there's no doubt that the love of both design and music was in Virgil's blood. Virgil truly changed the game as a creative who wasn't afraid to colour and pave the way to future generations.