Whether one is familiar with the fashion world or not, Virgil Abloh is a name that should resonate with everyone who is a part of modern culture. Starting as one of Kanye West’s most promising protégés, Virgil then quickly found his way and began building his own empire by forming a streetwear brand named Off-White and taking the art industry by storm. Perhaps his most recognizable achievement before he sadly passed away of a rare cancer was when he joined forces with the luxurious french brand Louis Vuitton under LVMH in 2018, becoming the first African-American of Ghanian descent to take the role of a creative director and step into a high end fashion house.
From the very beginning of his artistic career, much like his OG Mr. West, Virgil always showed a genuine interest in involving his community every step of the way. Before there was the undeniable power house of Off-White, around 2013 a local sensation in the heart of New York named Pyrex Vision was organizing parties and social events for its youth and the rest of the world to revere it all over the internet. The brand, group or collective under the guidance and leadership of Virgil Abloh, then compounded its popularity by unleashing a set of garments worn by famous acts like Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and Travi$ Scott, just to name a few. Throughout the short yet powerful journey of Virgil’s first unofficial brand, he made sure to highlight the youth and its influence by establishing upcomers in the fashion scene such as a young Luka Sabbat and Ian Connor, somewhat as the face of the brand and part of the important role that would play in making its mark.
In July 2020, with the help of the fashion scholarship fund or FSF in short, Virgil Abloh formed the ‘Post Modern’ scholarship fund to support black, African-American and of African descent students who are believed to be the next leaders in fashion. Not only will the project benefit talents with weak financial backgrounds to pursue the studies of their dreams, but in addition it includes internships and mentoring programs, giving students direct access to leading fashion companies such as Louis Vuitton, Nike and more. This is an attestation to the type of man Virgil Abloh has consistently shown to be, as he always made sure to leave a pathway behind for the next generation of fashion designers in his own communities. Moreover, he made use of the spaces he was already able to get into for others to have some certainty in succeeding at the position and rate Virgil was once a part of, which can only be seen as exemplary.
In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the luxury brand Louis Vuitton on 4th August 2021, Virgil made the impossible possible. Louis’ 200th was a feast of personalized Louis Vuitton trunks made by 200 visionaries all around the world, putting their own twist and signature look onto the item, and remarkably so. This includes the likes of Nigo, Samuel Ross, Ruba Abu-Nimah, Kevin Ma and many more. Perhaps an unexpected collaborator in the list was none other than Nigerian skater and graffiti artist Slawn, who for the past years etched out a following of his own through the skate brand Motherlan and his Keith Haring-like painting style. Make no mistake though, this was a very smart move made by Virgil Abloh like many of his previous contributions to, still even at the peak of his success, continue to support and uplift the youth and its new influencers, placing them in the same breath and respect as already-established innovators.
One of his most recent projects to take place, unfortunately before he could ever view the final result, is the making of Ghana’s first skatepark ‘Freedom’ in collaboration with Amsterdam-based streetwear brand Daily Paper and Surf Ghana. If you take a closer look, throughout Virgil’s creative journey, you will find he always had a genuine admiration for the skate scene, from his very own pair of skate shoes with Nike to recently signing the first skateboarder under Louis Vuitton, Lucien Clarke. The founding of the Freedom skatepark is of great importance and serves as a symbol to the fashion designer’s imprint he left wherever he went, always wanting to push forward communities he was a part of and making sure it would create pathways for upcoming artists to have the space and opportunities to reach as high of a position as he was in.
If anyone ever asks you why Virgil Abloh was one of the most impactful individuals of this generation, in his own words: “Fashion, art and design, are often spaces that aren’t diverse. I’m proof that young black people can become creatives in these spaces.” For many young people who grew up with similar interests that did not involve a lot of people from their own communities and identification, Mr. Abloh was living proof that the pursuit of such careers was indeed a realistic possibility and you may as well be as successful as in any traditional occupation or branch. What many are unaware of is that Virgil did not have a fashion background or any sort of studies to back his fashion knowledge; however, he was still able to access the most prestigious and closed-off territories of art with the force of his determination, optimism and passion.
Virgil has inspired young visionaries across the globe to follow their dreams, no matter how far and unreachable they may at first glance appear. The pathways that he was able to construct before his death are already in motion of guiding millions of young artists (and millions more to come) in becoming the next ‘it’ fashion designer or similar to him with the access and knowledge he inherited throughout his career. Furthermore, with the formation of his scholarship fund and the founding of Ghana’s first skatepark, there is a great chance that we will witness his contribution in art very soon, possibly in the hands of a future leader who was able to grow and flourish due to the benefits and space that Virgil created.
In conclusion, regardless of whether one was a supporter of his work or not, there is no denying that Virgil Abloh was one of the first in the fashion world to make the impossible possible on a global scale. And though he is no longer with us, his endeavours will never be forgotten. Virgil was here. Let this quote directly from him serve as a reminder;
Life is so short you can’t waste even a day subscribing to what someone thinks you can do versus knowing what you can do.
Rest in power Virgil Abloh (1980 - 2021)