Virgil Abloh

Off-White by Elizaveta Porodina

Virgil Abloh (b. 1980) is an American fashion designer, entrepreneur and DJ who has been the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear collection since March 2018. Apart from his work at Louis Vuitton, Abloh serves as the chief executive officer of the Milan-based label Off-White, a fashion house he founded in 2013.

He entered the world of 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 with the founding Off-White.

Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois, to Ghanaian immigrant parents. His mother was a seamstress. His father was a manager in a paint company. Virgil 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 in 2006. While Abloh was attending the Illinois Institute of Technology there was a building on campus under construction designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas which helped spark his interests for fashion.

In 2009, after graduating from university, he interned at Fendi in the same class as rapper Kanye West. Placed in the company’s Rome 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. Later that year, Abloh and Kanye West’s companion, Don C, launched a retail store, called the RSVP Gallery, located in Chicago, a space that 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/Kanye 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. He closed the company down a year later as he did not intend it to be a commercial enterprise but an artistic experiment

Abloh founded his first fashion house and second business overall in 2013 with the high-end streetwear brand Off-White. During the launch of his brand, he received help from the New Guards Group, an Italian contemporary luxury fashion production and distribution holding company, who assist many designers and brands. 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. 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 ten 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.

Virgil also partnered up with the Swedish furniture company IKEA to design furniture for apartments and houses. The collection is called Markerad which is a Swedish word meaning ‘clear-cut; crisp; pronounced.’ 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.

In 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. 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 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.

Virgil teamed up with SSENSE to release a workout collection in 2019, which 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 waste 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.

Virgil Abloh has also been working with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, whom he met in 2010 while creating the ‘Graduation’ album cover for American rapper Kanye West. 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. Currently, Abloh is expected to have his first solo art exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Abloh met his wife, Shannon Sundberg, in high school. They married in 2009. He maintains a house in Lincoln Park, Chicago, with his wife and their two children, Lowe and Grey. He travels 350,000 miles a year for his work.

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