Louis Vuitton artistic director Virgil Abloh dead at 41 after secret cancer battle
Virgil Abloh, the trail-blazing fashion designer who came up on the streets of Chicago and peaked as the artistic director for Louis Vuitton’s men’s line, died Sunday.
He was 41.
Known as one of the most influential designers of his generation, Abloh had been battling cancer “privately for several years” before succumbing to the disease, according to his company.
A statement posted on his personal Instagram account said he had been diagnosed with “a rare, aggressive form of ... cardiac angiosarcoma” in 2019 but had chosen to keep it private.
“Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered,” the statement read. “Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations.”
Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, owner of Louis Vuitton, called him “not only a genius designer, a visionary, but he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”
Abloh worked as an intern at Italian luxury fashion house Fendi in 2009, the same year as rapper Kanye West, who was taking a break from music and was living in Rome. The two formed a relationship, with Abloh eventually becoming the creative director of DONDA, West’s creative content company named after his mother, and the artistic director for the 2011 album “Watch the Throne” by West and Jay-Z.
After earning a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Abloh said he taught himself design, learning from Chicago graffiti art.
Off-White, Abloh’s high-end streetwear fashion house, was founded in 2013 and, five years later, Louis Vuitton brought him into the fold as the artistic director of the menswear line, making him the company’s first Black artistic director and one of the only Black designers to lead a major French fashion house.
His first Louis Vuitton show in Paris, in June 2018, changed the runway, bringing his street style into the world of luxury brands for a daring collaboration that paid off. Celebrity models included Kid Cudi and Playboi Carti, and guests included Rihanna and Naomi Campbell, as well as West and Kim Kardashian.
Since then, Abloh has been in demand, designing a two-piece black and white outfit for Serena Williams at the 2018 French Open, and Hailey Bieber’s wedding dress for her 2018 marriage to pop star Justin Bieber.
“Virgil completely changed the way I looked at street style and fashion, the way he looked at things inspired me deeply,” Hailey Bieber wrote on Instagram with a photo of the pair. “I will never be able to fully express how grateful I am to have known him and worked with him, from walking on his runways to having him design my wedding dress and all the other amazing moments in between.”
Several of Abloh’s fashion industry colleagues expressed their sorrow.
“I am so sorry to read this,” fashion designer Marc Jacobs wrote on Instagram. “My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones. May you rest in peace and power, dear Virgil.”
Italian designer Donatella Versace said, “The world has lost a fashion superstar. An innovator. A creator for the history books. I am thinking of all your loved ones on this tragic day.”
Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon and two children.