Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Virgil Abloh: Founding father for a new generation of fashion

December 14, 2021
<p>Virgil Abloh illustration by Madison Echlin. </p>

Virgil Abloh illustration by Madison Echlin.

Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

CEO of Off White, Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, husband, father and friend Virgil Abloh passed away Nov. 28 after a private battle with cancer. His influence on this generation of fashion will not be forgotten, and his commitment to supporting the Black community through fashion will be his legacy. 

Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois to immigrant parents. With a background in civil engineering and architecture, design was intrinsic to Abloh, though fashion wasn’t his course of study. This sense of structure found in architecture and engineering clearly influenced Abloh’s fashion designs, and other artistic pursuits as well, giving him a clean, minimalistic trademark.

Abloh achieved a level of admiration that only exists in the fantasies of other designers. Anyone who follows fashion remembers the ubiquity of the Off-White belt, and his iconic quotation marks — symbolizing a sense of detachment from society — gracing the sweatshirts of frat boys all over campus. By 2018, Off White was fashion’s new beloved brand, overtaking Gucci as the top label worldwide. 

In the same year, Abloh broke boundaries by becoming the first Black artistic director of Louis Vuitton, and one of only a few Black designers to head a French fashion house. Since then, Abloh has worked with virtually every celebrity known in the fashion world, including the likes of Rihanna, Serena Williams and Playboi Carti. 

Abloh was the very definition of the idea of lifting while climbing — lifting his community while climbing the ranks of fashion himself. He was dedicated to making fashion a space for everyone, specifically Black people. 

“Opening new doors for the Black community has always been, and will always be, the focus of my career,” wrote Abloh in a transparency report featured on his website.

Off White is massively popular with Gen Z consumers, who are reported to be much more concerned about ethical production and social justice. In a changing world where consumers demand more social responsibility from their favorite brands, Abloh championed a brand that was rooted in lifting his own community. His website documents the numerous ways in which he and his brand have supported the BIPOC community. 

Diverse hiring, representation, leading by example, donations, promoting Black talent and corporate advocacy are the foundations of Abloh’s activism through fashion. His advocacy was worldwide, extending through the United States, Europe and Africa. In Ghana, the country of Abloh’s parent’s, Abloh helped to establish the nation’s first skate park, creating a safe space for neighborhood children to play and share community. 

Additionally, Abloh raised $1 million for a scholarship called the “PostModern” Fund. This is to support Black students pursuing an education in the fashion industry, therefore fostering greater diversity within the industry. 

Abloh’s website also has a pop-up, with the words “FREE GAME.” The pop-up takes the viewer to another website, containing 12 categories where Virgil offers free mentorship for prospective designers who might have not had access to an education in fashion.

Abloh was part of the LVMH diversity panel, and spoke about fashion, politics, Blackness and identity in conferences and lectures. Abloh was able to uplift several other BIPOC designers. He worked closely with friend and artist Takashi Murakami, a Japanese fashion designer. 

Fashion ethics are constantly being debated, consumers are demanding accountability from their favorite brands, and traditions and norms of fashion are being turned on their heads. In this era of transition, Abloh created a space where BIPOC fashion designers and lovers could be supported and advanced. 

By advocating for his community on a worldwide scale while creatively and constantly pushing the bounds of fashion, Abloh set an example for the fashion industry. Advocacy was at the heart of everything Abloh created, and this is apparent in his art. 

Fashion is changing, and in a world where fashion could be synonymous with accountability, creativity, advocacy and impact, Virgil Abloh is a founding father.

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