Virgil Abloh’s rise to become one of the most recognised and adored designers of the new millennium was nothing short of amazing, coming from a background with no traditional fashion training. While he never grumbled about his upbringing as the son of a seamstress just outside of Chicago, he had a rather poor start, with no ties to the business he would eventually come to rise into.
Kanye West helped Abloh at the start of his journey and after meeting with the singer in 2002; Abloh was hired as a member of Kanye’s firm DONDA, where he subsequently became the creative director.
Today, the combination of streetwear with luxury has grown so prevalent but was a daring move in the mid-noughties, around the time Abloh started his iconic company PYREX VISION.
It was the age of Hood by Air, Kanye West x Nike, and Supreme: streetwear’s millennial revival, in which allusions from luxury designers were cherry-picked and reinterpreted for real life. PYREX VISION (and, subsequently, Off-WhiteTM) was a way for Abloh to pay respect to what he admired. It was inspired by historical advertisements, poster design, Raf Simons, and most notably, Maison Margiela’s heyday in the 1990s. It enraged commentators, who accused him of stealing from others — but that was the whole idea.
The famed screen-printed, PYREX-branded treatment was applied to reduced Ralph Lauren flannels and blank Champion shirts. Whatever you choose to call it, it changed the concept of luxury. PYREX VISION transcended streetwear (partly because Abloh despised the term) while also chipping away at luxury, therefore undermining both realms.
Furthermore, his prominence quickly rose to exceed many of his competitors in the eyes of younger customers. As if Abloh wasn’t already at the pinnacle of culture, his 2017 agreement with Nike resulted in “The Ten,” a highly sought-after ten-piece collaborative sneaker collection that spans nearly five years of must-have releases.
Abloh designed his debut SS19 collection, which expanded on his own point of view as a designer. His clothing were basic — even safe — but they came with a background that gave them poetry and meaning.
The show “Ebonics / Snake Oil / The Black Box / Mirror, Mirror” was unlike anything Louis Vuitton had ever done. Theatrical acts commented on the world we live in after a turbulent time with Black Lives Matter protests and the looming presence of COVID-19, the clothes and the message behind them deconstructed the “unconscious biases instilled in our collective psyche by the archaic norms of society,” and James Baldwin’s essay Stranger in the Village served as a backdrop that brought the commentary together.
Abloh was asked last year for a drawing of how he envisaged fashion after the epidemic. Despite his demanding schedule and sickness, he was gracious enough to design one. He submitted an image that had nothing to do with the epidemic. Instead, it showed two people wearing t-shirts that said, “Today was a wonderful day to apprehend Breonna Taylor’s killers.” His aim was that the Black Lives Matter protests will continue to alter the fashion industry, motivating individuals to express their wishes for the world via apparel.
With the pandemic raging last summer, fashion labels had to reconsider how to show their current collections. Abloh opted to produce a cartoon film as the creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. It featured individuals bopping around to enticing funk music and hiding as stowaways on a Louis Vuitton truck that zips throughout France, beginning in Asnières, where the company was born, and ending in Paris.
This video was directed by Abloh during a difficult period in his life. People all throughout the world felt confined and tormented as a result of the pandemic lockdowns. It’s now evident that Abloh was suffering from a fatal disease. Despite this, the video is upbeat, humorous, and cheerful. It displays the thoughts of an artist who chose to keep producing and expressing himself in the face of adversity.
Abloh’s legacy is characterised not by what he created, but by how he created it. Throughout his work with Pyrex, Off-WhiteTM, and Louis Vuitton, the designer consistently combined wide-ranging references with a deep understanding of the culture he represented, all while demonstrating what an untrained Black man can do in the elitist fashion industry he so eloquently infiltrated and inspired. Abloh’s enduring legacy is that we all got to experience and live his dream alongside him, motivating many others to go out there and obtain it.
“[Louis Vuitton is] allowing me to store my whole collections in the same archives that go back to 1854, so that, to me, you can’t erase it,” Abloh said in a 2018 interview with Naomi Campbell. “I want everyone to remember us.” And he’ll be there, he’ll be there, he’ll be there If there’s one thing that sticks with you, it’s this: “I dreamed about it… I was the one who brought it to completion.”