A vintage designer and fashion disruptor

We celebrate the legacy of Virgil Abloh, the era-defining designer and fashion disruptor who passed away late last year.

The fashion world still mourns the loss of Virgil Abloh, the American designer who died at the end of November at the shockingly early age of 41. The embodiment of a new wave of creators, Abloh has not only enjoyed creative and commercial success, but he has also been a pioneer of change, both in terms of fundamental artistic practices and in diversity and representation.

From the early days of his career, Virgil Abloh championed what was, for the fashion industry at the time, the new concept of ‘ironic detachment’, in which new designs can be created simply by changing just 3 % of an original work. The philosophy, which was popularized in the visual arts by Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, has seen its evolution in some of Abloh’s most revered works.

Virgil Abloh, a fashion designer who marked an era

Louis Vuitton Spring / Summer 2019 Menswear

A civil engineer and architect by training, Virgil Abloh developed a keen interest in fashion while pursuing his master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, on whose campus a building designed by Rem Koolhaas, the architect who had also worked with the Italian fashion house Prada, was under construction at the time. It sparked a spark in the graduate student who quickly caught fire, fueling Abloh’s creativity and ultimately leading to a move that redefines his career to Rome where in 2009 he began an internship at Fendi.

Although Abloh spent much of his time at the fashion brand’s headquarters doing mundane chores – endless photocopies interspersed with coffee runs – he was nonetheless able to work on ideas as groundbreaking as jogging pants. in leather, a concept that scandalized and rejected Fendi, yet years later became an explosive streetwear trend.

Off-White Fall 2021 (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Lucioni / GoRunway)
Off-White Fall 2021 (Photo courtesy of Alessandro Lucioni / GoRunway)

In 2013, Abloh launched Off-White, a brand now considered a household name by street style mavens, from American hip-hop royalty to Insta niche micro-celebrities. Described by its founder as “the gray area between black and white,” Off-White debuted with unconventional elements that would soon become permanent stems of the streetwear lexicon, such as quotes, zippers and the barricade tape. Off-White catwalks quickly came to be regarded as the cutting edge of streetwear each season, with its shows being run by Naomi Campbell, Bella Hadid, Karlie Kloss and Amber Valletta.

Upon hearing of Abloh’s death, Campbell, who had become both a muse and a close friend of Abloh, shared these words on Instagram: Putting it together. You were humble and worked hard and brave with everything you were going through, lived the dream and sat down at the table. HISTORICAL!!! It was an honor to walk for you in your show inspired by Off-White Princess Diana… ”

Naomi Campbell at Off-White Spring / Summer 2018
Naomi Campbell at Off-White Spring / Summer 2018

In March 2018, Abloh made history when he was hired by Louis Vuitton, becoming the first African-American artistic director of a major French luxury brand.

Some three months later, his first exhibition was held in the gardens of the Palais-Royale in Paris, an extraordinary and pivotal event for Abloh and the House which offered him public recognition, the opportunity to win the hearts of young people for the brand and a gateway to endless artistic collaborations for both. This June afternoon, everyone in fashion was made aware of Abloh’s unique vision of luxury, a vision deeply influenced by art and architecture.

A few seasons later, in his fall 2020 menswear collection for Louis Vuitton, Abloh turned his attention to a menswear staple he had previously ignored: the men’s suit. The whole presentation could best be described as a study, in which Abloh’s ambition to deconstruct the original men’s uniform and examine every part of it was evident. Using fur and ruffles, he upset male archetypes, while through meticulous construction and elaborate set design, he created a new context for tailoring, which would evolve with each subsequent collection.

Abloh’s approach to creativity was analytical, with deliberate references to artwork and architecture evident in every prop and color. Dubbed its best runway to date, the men’s fall / winter 2021 collection for Louis Vuitton was less a presentation of seasonal clothing than a reflection, both historical and cultural, on the global socio-political situation.

On the show, Abloh not only hinted at the Tourist vs Purist theme from his first collection, but also explored black consciousness, providing answers to questions that wouldn’t normally be heard from industry leaders. of fashion.

Expressing his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, he imbued pieces with elements reflecting his heritage – Ghanaian Kente fabric and wax print fabrics – and merged them with western fashion codes, such as fedoras and quilts. Two pieces from the collection received praise from fashion connoisseurs: an unusually long coat and a surreal jacket with three-dimensional replicas of Notre-Dame de Paris, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Pyramid and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Virgil Abloh entered Louis Vuitton as a multidisciplinary artist – and during his painfully short but impactful tenure he remained one. It was in his very nature. Abloh shared a sentimental bond with contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami; the two collaborated on several occasions.

TAKASHI MURAKAMI & VIRGIL ABLOH, LOOKING TO THE FUTURE (2018)
Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, Looking beyond the future, 2018

Their most illustrious joint project, the AMERICA TOO exhibition in Gagosian, explored the country’s relationship with branding and its socio-political context. It was a perfect marriage: neither artist was afraid to apply cultural, historical, literary and pop-cultural references to their work and to paint outside the lines.

While the show can best be described as a clash of polarities that might have been difficult to resolve successfully, in reality, the introduction of Abloh’s Bauhaus-inspired minimalism into Murakami’s work was a triumphant testament to the ambitions of both. artists in disciplines of rapprochement.

When Abloh’s death was announced, Murakami recalled when the two worked together. “… I miss the days when you came to my studio and spent long hours with me,” he wrote. “I took my hat off to your vitality: I knew I was no match for you. The thing is, I have only met a handful of people in the world who get involved in art and get to understand the heart of it, and I can confirm that you are a part of it.

TAKASHI MURAKAMI AND VIRGIL ABLOH, OUR SPOT 1, 2018
Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, OUR PLACE 1, 2018

Abloh left behind battalions of devotees and forever changed landscapes of luxury and art. Her perseverance in the face of adversity has been inspiring and astonishing, helping to open doors for passionate and creative minds from all walks of life.

And while the fight for true equality, whether based on race, gender or sexuality, is far from won, Abloh has made an invaluable contribution to equality. Olivier Rousteing, another prominent figure who has shaken up French fashion, remembers Abloh as a dreamer.

“You have made a whole world dream, you have brought enlightenment to entire generations,” said Rousteing, now Creative Director of Balmain. “By your art, your vision, your WORDS, you have made it clear that anything is possible. I remember us in Paris dreaming about fashion even before it all started for us.

And a dream is Abloh’s legacy – a dream of a world in which possibilities and opportunities arise from talent and perseverance, not from the skin-deep attributes of an individual.

About Dawn Valle

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