Virgil Abloh, the Louis Vuitton and Off-White designer, and the boundary-breaking creative force at the center of contemporary fashion and culture, died Sunday at the age of 41. Abloh died of cancer “which he had been battling privately for several years,” LVMH, the parent company that owns Louis Vuitton, shared in a statement.
“We are all shocked after this terrible news,” said LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault. “Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom. The LVMH family joins me in this moment of great sorrow, and we are all thinking of his loved ones after the passing of their husband, their father, their brother or their friend.” Abloh fought a rare form of cancer known as cardiac angiosarcoma, according to a statement posted posthumously to the designer’s Instagram. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019,” the statement said. Through it all, Abloh shouldered the workload required to design numerous collections a year for both Louis Vuitton and Off-White.
Abloh’s influence as a designer is hard to measure. He emerged from his role as Kanye West’s creative consigliere with his own vision for fashion, which he made real through his work first at Pyrex Vision and eventually Off-White and Louis Vuitton. If streetwear and fashion are now easy bedfellows, it’s thanks in large part to Abloh’s influence. His appointment as Vuitton’s men’s creative director signaled a change in the fashion industry: both in the types of clothes that were being made and the people responsible for making them. More than that, he helped craft a kind of modern creative life—characterized by endless iteration, constant collaboration, frequent travel, and a global community of collaborators—that almost immediately became the template for active and aspiring designers and artists of all stripes. “Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design,” the statement on his Instagram said. “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.”
And as he told GQ Style in 2019 for an oral history of his life and career, he still felt himself to be closer to the beginning of things than to the end. Just ahead of the opening of a career retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago—his stated intent was for the show to create five new Virgils—he put it this way: “I feel like I’m figuring things out, but I don’t feel accomplished yet. I still feel like I’m an intern.