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BLACK CREATORS

Virgil Abloh


Virgil Abloh is an artist, architect, and fashion designer who was born in Rockford, Illinois, in 1980. He earned a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology after getting a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Abloh learned to mix the realms of art, craft, and design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he was introduced to a curriculum created by Mies van der Rohe and based on Bauhaus ideas. Today, Abloh’s inter-disciplinary practice combines these beliefs with modern society.

Virgil Abloh, a Ghanaian-American creative director, broke barriers in the traditionally conservative fashion business by introducing streetwear to the highest levels of the luxury market and becoming one of the few Black designers to lead a major luxury house.

He reimagined the creative director’s function by infusing it with hip-love hop’s of remixing, skateboarding’s feeling of community, and a drive for social betterment. And he helped to open doors for a broader cast of creatives by engaging directly with his followers, both online and offline, and offering them “cheat codes” and “trailers of information” on how to build their own businesses.

Abloh was born in the suburbs of Chicago in 1980 to Ghanaian parents. In 2002, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and went on to study architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He first gained notoriety as Kanye West’s creative director, and the two interned at Fendi together in 2009.

Pyrex Vision, Abloh’s first fashion line, debuted in 2012, and he partnered with Matthew Williams and Heron Preston as part of the Been Trill collective before teaming up with the New Guards Group to establish luxury streetwear sensation Off-White in 2013. In 2017, he debuted a groundbreaking collaboration with Nike, in which he dismantled ten of the brand’s iconic sneakers. If necessary, a Western ideal of supremacy may be easily grafted onto Abloh’s exceptional life. The pop-culture-obsessed son of Ghanaian immigrants in Rockford, Illinois, cut an unusual road via streetwear to one of fashion’s highest positions—artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton—and dragged all his boys along. His primary identity in the aftermath of his death is that he was only the third Black man to run a major French fashion brand. However, his ascension was meaningful in part because he abandoned the fixed nature of “ascendance.” L.V.M.H. regarded him as the skeleton-key ambassador to a clientele it had previously rejected but now sought, but Abloh saw himself as a big-kid enthusiast, a rewriter of our ideals of luxury, and a true believer in youth’s fantasies. He applied the same zeal to perfecting a sparkly harness or punctuating a puffy silhouette with the bluntness of a pair of sneakers that he applied to an unplanned d.j. night in Paris, New York, or Chicago. His presence compelled, or compelled, the fashion business to embrace values it had previously regarded as frivolous: sincerity, excitement, credulity, and love. What could possibly be more grave than love? Fashion, of all commercial arts, requires the greatest suspension of disbelief on the part of its audience. How many Vogue Runway devotees will ever touch the hems of the gowns they’ve memorized? Abloh emphasized the paradoxes and ironies of commercialism, as well as the spirit of sampling, which he adopted not only from higher-brow artists like as Duchamp and Warhol, but also from hip-hop, our generation’s lingua franca. He elevated the little drama of putting on a hoodie, drinking from a bottle of Evian water, or pawing an Ikea rug—all of which had mischievously recognized parts of his graphic design. Perhaps it was his overwhelming ubiquity that contributed to his occasional misreading. And yet, there was an element of playfulness about Abloh that the fashion industry grew to like, even if the garments did not appeal to its sensibilities. Abloh was not for everyone—he was particularly unsuitable for cynics. What purpose did he serve? The supporters. The self-taught. The rebellious and the compulsive. There is a cadre of designers who exhibit actual prodigiousness at the craft level. What Abloh accomplished was unusual, but equally undeniable: without him, the tale of millennial culture cannot be recounted.

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