Abloh in 2019
|Born||September 30, 1980|
Rockford, Illinois, U.S.
Virgil Abloh (//; born September 30, 1980) is an American designer, entrepreneur, and DJ who has been the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's men's wear collection since March 2018. Abloh is also the chief executive officer of the Milan-based label Off-White, a fashion house he founded in 2013.
A trained architect, Abloh, who also worked in Chicago street fashion, entered the world of international fashion with an internship at Fendi in 2009 alongside rapper Kanye West. The two then began an artistic collaboration that would launch Abloh's career into founding Off-White. The first American of African descent to be artistic director at a French luxury fashion house, he was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.
Early life and education
Virgil Abloh was born on September 30, 1980, in Rockford, Illinois, to Ghanaian immigrant parents. His mother was a seamstress and his father managed a paint company. Abloh was raised in Rockford, where he attended Boylan Catholic High School, graduating in 1998. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. He received his Master of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 2006. When Abloh was attending IIT there was a building on campus under construction designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas which helped spark his interests for fashion. While studying architecture, he designed t-shirts and wrote on fashion and design for a well known blog, The Brilliance. Abloh first met popular musician Kanye West while working on his designs at a Chicago print shop.
2009–2013: Rise to prominence
After graduating from university, Abloh interned at Fendi in the same class as rapper Kanye West in 2009. Placed in the company's Rome, Italy office, the two began a collaborative relationship. During his collaborative work with the rapper and designer, he caught the eye of the Louis Vuitton CEO, Michael Burke, through his work at Fendi. Later that year, Abloh and West's companion, Don C, launched a retail store, called the RSVP Gallery, located in Chicago. Their founded retail space became known for carrying a mixture of fashion apparel, and for its reflection of Virgil's style on his design for the store interior. A year later, West appointed Abloh the creative director of his creative agency, DONDA. In 2011, West asked him to serve as the artistic director for the 2011 Jay-Z/West album Watch the Throne. In 2012, Abloh launched his first company, Pyrex Vision. Abloh purchased deadstock clothing from Ralph Lauren for $40, screen-printed designs on them and sold them for prices upward of $550. The stated goal of Pyrex Vision was to represent the importance of youth culture, by centering the designs around a garment that most youth would notice from gym class. Virgil's ideas could be clearly geared around the importance of the now. He closed the company down a year later as he did not intend it to be a commercial enterprise but an artistic experiment.
2013–2017: Off-White and mainstream success
Abloh founded his first fashion house and second business overall in 2013 with the high-end streetwear brand Off-White, designing a logo inspired by Ben Kelly. Based in Milan, Italy, the company was described by Abloh as "the gray area between black and white as the color off-white" to investors and fashion critics. During the launch of his brand, he received help from the New Guards Group, who also assisted many other designers and brands, such as Palm Angels, Heron Preston, and Marcelo Burlon. Abloh's brand lead towards a widespread gain of attention for his apparel beginning in Paris, then expanding to China, Tokyo, Japan and the United States. The clothing line can be identified through its use of quotation marks, zip-ties, capital letters and barricade tape. He launched the company's women's wear line in 2014 and showed the collections at the Paris Fashion Week. His line was selected as a finalist for the LVMH Prize, an industry award, but lost to Marques'Almeida and Jacquemus. Abloh launched his first concept store for Off-White in Tokyo, Japan, where he started the company's furniture arm, Grey Area. In 2017, he was asked to design a new collection in conjunction with Nike entitled "The Ten" where he re-designed a variety of the company's best-selling shoes. Through Abloh's re-designing he exercised his self-made rule of only editing the shoes 3% of the way because he was intrigued by still maintaining the original design of the shoe.
2013–2018: Off-White and collaborations
Virgil also partnered up with the Swedish furniture company IKEA to design furniture for apartments and houses also easy to carry tote bags imprinted sculptures in the middle. The collection was named Markerad, which is a Swedish word meaning "clear-cut; crisp; pronounced", and was released in 2019. Virgil envisions the collection to include practical furniture that features contemporary designs. Abloh has worked towards fulfilling his vision for the collection by sketching out drafts of generic pieces of furniture, while adding his own aesthetics to the designs by using a doorstop to level out furniture items. Abloh worked on designs for chairs, coffee tables, beds, storage cabinets, mirrors and carpets apart of his collaboration with IKEA. Abloh uses quotation marks to convey detachment from society and social norms. During the rise in neo-nationalism in 2017 Abloh worked with conceptual artist Jenny Holzer to create a line emphasizing the positive aspects of immigration, cultural integration, and globalization. In December 2017, he worked with Holzer again to design T-shirts for Planned Parenthood in response to the Women's March on Washington.
2018–present: Louis Vuitton
On March 25, 2018, Abloh was named artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear ready wear line, marking him the first person of African descent to lead the brand's menswear line, as well as one of the few black designers at the helm of a major French fashion house. Upon his acceptance of the position, he stated, "It is an honor for me to accept this position. I find the heritage and creative integrity of the house are key inspirations and will look to reference them both while drawing parallels to modern times". Abloh showed his first collection for Louis Vuitton at the 2018 Men's Fashion Week at the Palais-Royal gardens in Paris. Rihanna was the first person to wear Abloh before the show. Playboi Carti, Steve Lacy, A$AP Nast, Dev Hynes, and Kid Cudi walked for the fashion show. Abloh has since been in high demand for his designs, creating an original outfit designed for Serena Williams to wear throughout the 2018 US Open, a collaboration with Nike. On June 5, 2018, Virgil Abloh released a special collaboration with the luggage manufacturer Rimowa, a transparent suitcase in limited edition. In March 2019, Abloh collaborated with Ikea to start making furniture for millennials, ranging from cabinets, rugs, coffee tables, and chairs. Abloh has incorporated different elements of style, such as his quotation marks around certain words and putting it on different articles of clothing, and in this case different types of furniture. For example, Abloh created a “Door Stop Interruption” on a chair by adding a doorstop on one of the chair legs to make it elevated. One of Abloh's most popular items is the Frakta Bag. It is beige with the text "SCULPTURE" imprinted on the side. Virgil teamed up with SSENSE to release a workout collection on March 29, 2019 . This collection contains a variety of workout clothes ranging from; matching leggings and sports bras, athletic sweaters and crop tops. This collection incorporates some of Virgil's signature designs by including the Off-White yellow sign wrapping around the waist of the pants and bottom of the sports bras. Virgil also includes a three-dimensional addition of his four-way arrows, creating a cross, on the front of the tops and pants. Abloh was featured in conversation with his friend and frequent collaborator Takashi Murakami on the cover of the fall 2018 issue of Cultured magazine.
Abloh created a custom Off-White gown and veil for Hailey Bieber's wedding day. On the veil, he included his famous quotation marks design around the words "till death do us part"
Abloh was given a solo art show in Murakami's Kaikai Kiki art gallery in Tokyo, Japan. On numerous occasions their artwork has been showcased together such as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Mukarkami's shop Oz Zingaro in Tokyo. In 2018, Abloh and Murakami also collaborated on a series of exhibitions at Gagosian Gallery's outposts in London, Paris and Beverly Hills.
Abloh's first solo museum art exhibition occurred at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2019. After Chicago, Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech travels to the High Museum of Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, and the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition offers a mid-career retrospective of Abloh's endeavors in art, design and music.
Abloh's interest in music led him to DJing beginning in his teens. He DJ'd at house parties throughout high school and college. His influences included DJ's A-Trak, Benji B and Gilles Peterson. Over the years, Abloh gained recognition as a DJ and started playing shows internationally. He has played at Hi Ibiza and also been booked for Tomorrowland's 2019 edition. Abloh released his first single "Orvnge" with German DJ/producer Boys Noize in January 2018. In June 2019, Abloh was named to a DJ residency at Wynn Las Vegas's XS Nightclub, with Wynn also agreeing to open an Off-White store.
In May 2019 Pioneer, maker of DJ consoles, announced its collaboration with Abloh in design of its transparent CDJ-2000NXS2 and DJM-900NXS2 models. The consoles were displayed at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in the Figures of Speech Exhibition 
In June 2020, Abloh designed the original cover for Pop Smoke album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon. The original cover came under heavy criticism from fans. On July 2, a new cover was revealed along with the album's release. The new cover was designed by Ryder Ripps.
Abloh has noted that one of his principles is that a new design can be created by changing an original by only three per cent. Abloh has described his approach as being "ironic detachment" and that Duchamp's precedence "gives him the grounds to copy and paste, to take and to re-apply." This philosophy has caused Abloh to be accused of plagiarism and appropriation.
The originality of Off-White's logo design with its alternating parallel diagonal lines has been contested by a number of parties, including Ben Kelly, who popularized this graphic in the early 1980s. Fashion blog Diet Prada has compared several of Abloh's designs, from chairs to apparel, with existing designs.
Abloh's FW 2019 collection was based on his "ultimate muse" Michael Jackson. The launch occurred one week prior to the release of Leaving Neverland at the Sundance Film Festival. In response, Louis Vuitton announced they would not produce any items that directly featured Michael Jackson elements. Abloh also received criticism in early 2019 when images of his Off-White team suggested a lack of cultural diversity at his head office.
In 2019, LVMH recorded a 20% growth in sales that were in part attributed to Abloh's appointment. However, in December 2019 Abloh predicted that streetwear would die in 2020 as people moved to vintage clothing. On the March 2020 launch of his collaboration with streetwear designer Nigo, Abloh retracted his earlier comments clarifying that he was only riffing, describing himself as a novice.
During the George Floyd protests in mid-2020, Abloh attracted criticism after posting on social media a screenshot showing that he had made a $50 donation to Miami-based art collective (F)empower to go towards protesters' legal costs, adding that he was "crazy inspired". He later said on Instagram that "I can understand your frustration if you think my contributions were limited to $50... [that is] purely false when it comes to the total. I have donated $20,500 to bail funds and other causes related to this movement", and continued, "I will continue to donate more and will continue to use my voice to urge my peers to do the same". Abloh also subsequently commented that the looting of businesses during the George Floyd protests was an example of why streetwear is dead.
Abloh met his wife, Shannon Sundberg, in high school. They married in 2009. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two children. Abloh is of the Ewe ethnicity of the Volta region in Ghana.
In 2020, Abloh established the Virgil Abloh™️ “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund. Abloh raised $1 million for the scholarships which will be managed by the Fashion Scholarship Fund to assist Black students.
Awards and honors
Abloh received his first major award in 2011 when his work designing the cover art for the 2011 Jay-Z/Kanye West album Watch the Throne was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. In 2015 Abloh for Off-White ℅ Virgil Abloh was one of the finalists for the LVMH Prize. Abloh was the only American designer to be nominated for the award. Abloh's Charlie Hebdo-inspired “War is Not Over!” tees as well as his toppers from his fall 2015 women's collection gained him the most traction. He received the Urban Luxe award at the 2017 British Fashion Awards. He also won International designer of the Year at the GQ men of the year awards in 2017. Derived from predominantly his role as creative director for his brand Off-White as well as collaborations with Nike. Abloh's Off-White Air Jordan “the Ten” collaboration won 2017's Shoe of the Year, received nods for Accessory Designer of the Year. Abloh was listed as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2018, one of two designers named that year. In the Time issue, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami wrote that Abloh's impressive achievements lead to his listing. In December 2018, Abloh was honored as a leading innovator by Ebony Power 100 alongside SHAVONE. Abloh was also nominated for 2019 Menswear Designer of the Year.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Virgil Abloh.|
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