Virgil Abloh. More than Fashion
What made Virgil Abloh the renaissance man?
When you think of Virgil Abloh, so many great things come to mind. A kid from Rockford Illinois who had a dream of changing the creative industry through design, art, music and fashion. Most of us got introduced to Virgil through Pyrex Vision and the world paid attention. Behind this project, there was discipline, adventure and resistance, even though he never saw Pyrex Vision as a brand but rather an experimental art project, it left a mark in the street culture and playing gimmick in modern luxury.
But what is it that made Virgil, Virgil? how did he become one of the most influential people in the fashion zeitgeist?
Who is Virgil Abloh?
Born to Ghanaian immigrant parents, he attended Boylan Catholic High School and completed his undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 2006 he obtained a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. During his time at IIT, he became interested in the fashion industry. However, one might argue this was not his first interaction with fashion, his mother being a seamstress, taught him a few tricks and what it took to run a fashion business.
The iconic moments
Throughout his career, Abloh had memorable moments that sparked conversations. During Paris fashion week, one of the most iconic images was created, photographed by renowned photographer Tommy Ton, Virgil along with Kanye West and his crew invaded Paris to represent the modern street aesthetic. Speaking to Naomi Campbell for British Vogue, he described that moment as a photo that ruled the internet before social media became popular, this was them saying “this is us and we want to participate in this arena”.
His collaborations were impactful, from working as a creative consultant for Kanye West’s creative agency Donda to collaborations with Levi’s, Ikea, and Nike (The Ten collection) to name just a few. He left an impact in everything he did and all his collaborations were organic which may be the reason why people were invested and lined up to purchase products made by him. From these collaborations, he not only was interested in being a leader but bringing young creatives to collaborate with him. He understood the power of influence and what it meant to give someone a chance to prove themselves.
Virgil not only was into fashion, but he also showed his skills in writing by contributing to The Brilliance, a collaborative site founded by Chuck Anderson and Ben Gott and made people move as a DJ. What we learned from him was, never box yourself, if you have desires to become so many things in the world, do it.
Making history at Louis Vuitton
When Abloh took over from Kim Jones as an Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton, he gave a lot of young people of colour hope, this was not just his win, this was a win for every kid who dreams of changing the status quo in the fashion industry. What separated him from the past designers was his ability to reimagine luxury, showcasing the street culture and using African cultural references to tell a story.
His most anticipated first show in the Spring/Summer of 2019 cemented him as one of the greatest of our time. He created a collection which redefined street style and modern luxury, and a new customer for Louis Vuitton was born. The use of colour and tailoring was exceptional, most fashion critics did not see Virgil as someone who could lead a big fashion house, and by the end of the show, all eyes were on him with great respect and congratulations. Oh, and who can forget that bromance between Virgil and Kanye at the end of the show. The following seasons kept getting better, more nostalgic and sentimental.
New generation and the power of social media
What stood out with Virgil was his ability to talk to the masses, especially young millennials and Gen Z’ers. Describing his teenage year as a foundation for everything, it is no surprise that he was able to reach out to these young individuals on a more emotional and deeper level. He understood what it took to shape the next greatest minds in the creative space.
Whether this was through social media or face to face he always wanted to talk to a generation that hasn’t been messaged luxury yet, opening their minds to new ways of thinking and creating.
If you ever followed Virgil on social media, you would’ve come across amazing projects and collaborations which were probably not ready for the world to see but went on to share with his followers. He understood why social media is existing, it is more than sharing what you wearing, well for someone like him, it was his digital library and telling a story. Speaking to System Magazine, he described the internet as “a powerful tool, you could literally start a brand with three clicks on a thumb”, which is a testament to how his career evolved with the rise of social media.
Legacy for the next generation
Before his passing, he left sources of inspiration through his personal website, this also speaks of how much he wanted to empower others. Looking back at his journey from humble beginnings and gaining success, he was never alone, and he never held back in sharing wisdom and career guidance.
It is very rare for someone who was in a position of power as he was, to give their all and share knowledge and not hold back. Whether you met him or not, there was always something to learn from Virgil.
We were fortunate to witness such greatness in the 21st century, he showed up and gave his all. As 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.” He broke boundaries and did not allow the creative industry to typecast him, and also understood the power of representation because he has been in a space that was not designed for him and for the people who looked like him.
He thrived on innovation and taking what has been created to tell his story and putting his trademark. His legacy will continue to live on, and young people will learn of his creative genius and will continue to push boundaries to create lasting legacies.