Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour remembered the fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who passed away on Sunday after a private fight with cancer aged 41, by sharing one of her favorite memories of the Off-White designer and Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director.
“There will be many tributes to Virgil Abloh’s design genius, but I would like to share a more personal memory of a wonderful colleague, humanitarian and friend,” Wintour wrote in a statement sent to The Daily Beast. “Some years ago I heard about the French soccer team Melting Passes, whose players were all immigrants. The team had just won the FSGT championship in 2017, but despite this huge accolade, they didn’t have the resources for team jerseys.
“When I happened to mention this to Virgil, he immediately offered to help, calling up Nike, and after what seemed like about a minute later, thirty jerseys were on their way to those young players. Later, he invited them all to his Off-White show in Paris, to celebrate their achievements as much as his own. The thing about Virgil wasn’t just his remarkable ability to speak to the moment, or his relentless drive to create, create, create. He was someone who was always ready to help others on the road to success; to play his part in lifting them up, whenever and wherever he could. It was a gift which only makes his untimely passing even harder to bear.”
The son of Ghanian immigrant parents, Abloh grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and got his start designing merch for Kanye West, who became a good friend after the pair met in a Chicago print shop. The pair interned together at Fendi in Rome in 2009, and Abloh became West’s official artistic director.
He launched his first brand, Pyrex Vision, in 2012, selling up-cycled Ralph Lauren t-shirts. He then founded the streetwear brand Off-White in 2013, which garnered a dedicated, often very young fanbase with its quotation mark graphics and zip-tied sneakers. He was tapped as the head of menswear for Louis Vuitton in 2018, making him one of the most prominent—and powerful—Black designers working today.
Oana Stănescu, an architect and the designer behind her eponymous studio, worked with Abloh “on too many design projects to count,” as she told The Daily Beast in an email. They also spoke together at seminars for Harvard GSD, MIT, and the Architectural Association in London. She called Abloh “a true friend.”
“I am afraid of putting things down both because it petrifies something I am still in denial of, but mostly because I fear missing something out and not doing Virgil justice,” Stănescu wrote. “Not only brilliant, but also an incredibly kind, generous, open, and endlessly curious mind, he shared his lust for life freely, inspiring across generations. No other single voice was able to connect with youth in the past troublesome decade the way Virgil did, and he did so naturally, because he was youth incarnate. We will continue to live in a world that he shaped and while the world is certainly lesser without him, we were lucky to have had him in the first place. May he Rest in Peace.”
Véronique Hyland, the fashion features director for ELLE, told The Daily Beast: “The fashion world, as we know, can be extremely closed-off. Virgil made fashion accessible to regular people and made sure to include those who came up with him along the way. As he climbed fashion’s ranks, he didn’t pull up the ladder behind him—he let people ascend with him.
“When I interviewed him for Elle last year, he talked about how important it was for him to listen to the young people in the room, and I think that willingness to hear everyone out was what kept him so innovative and exciting. He didn’t just do something because it had always been done that way—every part of his approach was DIY and disruptive.”
Bella Hadid, who frequently modeled in Off-White runways, wrote on Instagram that she was “at a loss” hearing the news. “That was the magic power he held,” Hadid wrote. “He made every person he came across feel special in whatever way he possibly could. Even when the world felt sad, he brought laughter and color and beauty.”
The actor Traces Ellis Ross wrote on Instagram that Abloh’s death “is a devastating loss to culture and fashion.”
The musician Questlove paid his respects by writing, “The teachable lesson here is disrupt. Provoke. Be controversial. Push buttons. Be a conversation piece….live as a true artist. No matter what your thoughts were—about his work/life, whether you slept in line for off white…..or you snarked comments—the true sign of an artist is all these things. Virgil Abloh was art.”
Hailey Bieber, who wore a custom Off-White gown to her 2019 wedding, shared a photo from the day with the caption, “I will never be able to fully express how grateful I am to have known [Abloh] and worked with him, from walking on his runways to having him design my wedding dress and all the other amazing moments in between, I felt he was always rooting for me. He was someone who always brought life, charisma, love and fun to any situation, and every room he walked into. A once in a generation creative mind that is so rare and I’ll never forget his impact.”
Venus Williams posted a photo on Instagram of Abloh posing with her sister, the tennis champ Serena. In 2019, Williams wore a zebra-printed Abloh-designed uniform at the French Open blazed with the words “Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess.” Venus wrote in a caption that she never met Abloh, but hoped to at this year’s Met Gala.
“It was so festive there this year and the first time anyone had been out in a long time and we didn’t cross paths even though I saw him from the distance,” Venus wrote. “But I was caught in a conversation and when I looked up he was gone. I thought I had more time, I had no idea he didn't have more time… It was so brave how he continued his life work through the absolute most difficult of circumstances. I’m [sic] amazing how he continued no matter what to pursue what he loved and to bring opportunity to all, to open doors and elevate the worlds of fashion, design and art.
“It gives me even more inspiration as I prepare for next years tennis season coming off of a few years of challenging injuries. I have a feeling everything I do and experience next year will be for Virgil and inspired by Virgil…. I can’t believe that he’s gone. It’s surreal, it feels like he's still here. I love him, always have and always will.”
Sergio Hudson, the designer who created Michelle Obama’s much-loved plum inauguration jumpsuit, wrote on Instagram that he and Abloh “were just talking about our new collections and exchanging home products.”
“This cannot be real,” Hudson added. “Your advice and encouraging words were priceless and will never be forgotten. You were one of the sweetest most giving souls Ive ever encountered on this journey through fashion. You told me my destiny was set all I had to do was walk through the door. Those words gave me the confidence to ask for what I wanted to push even harder.”
Bianca Saunders, a 28-year-old menswear designer, told Radio 1 Newsbeat that seeing Abloh ascend to fashion's highest ranks as a Black designer gave her the encouragement to strive for the top as well.
“It gave me an idea of where the glass ceiling could actually go—because there’s not many people that look like me in the industry in terms of being Black and in fashion,” she said.
West dedicated his weekly Sunday Service performance livestream to Abloh, dedicating a simple black title card that read, “In loving memory of Virgil Abloh, the creative director of [West’s brand] Donda.”