The Most Visible Black Designer in Fashion, Virgil Abloh, Dies at 41

Virgil Abloh has departed us, but his legacy and impact on the fashion industry will live on

Renowned fashion designer Virgil Abloh died on November 28, 2021 after suffering from cancer, according to an announcement on his official Instagram page.

The Off-White founder and artistic designer for Louis Vuitton had battled cardiac angiosarcoma—a rare, aggressive form of cancer—for over two years. Since his diagnosis in 2019, he chose to endure his battle privately, while handling several important institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.

Abloh’s influence stretched beyond fashion via his many pursuits in furniture, music, art, and culture. He was the definition of the modern designer. He began designing clothes in 2012. His first design, a screen print applied to a Ralph Lauren rugby shirt, set the tone for his future work. Famous for cross-collaborations, he worked with various brands from Nike to Ikea—always bringing fashion to places where it had not gone before. In 2013, he founded his own label, Off-White, and in 2018, he was appointed head of menswear design at Louis Vuitton. His contribution to the world of footwear was one of his greatest legacies, setting new standards for cutting-edge sneakers with his Nike x Off-White designs. His dedication to music initiated what would be a long-standing collaboration with Kanye West, where he designed some of the rapper’s album covers and served as a creative director for his design agency, Donda. 

Tributes to one of fashion’s most powerful Black men poured overnight. Harlem couturier Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, posted on Instagram, “Virgil's life was a testament to how much Black Lives Matter by showing what black lives are capable of.”

Supermodel Gigi Hadid shared photos of the two together, and wrote: “I am heartbroken by the loss of my dear friend, and a friend to the world, Virgil Abloh. He was 1 of 1 … You will continue to inspire me every day, V. I feel blessed and honoured by every moment.”

Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH, owner of both Off-White and Louis Vuitton, said in a statement: “Virgil was not only a genius designer—a visionary—he was also a man with a beautiful soul and a great wisdom.”

Poet Amanda Gorman, who wore a stunning garment designed by Abloh for her Vogue cover in May, wrote that she was “privileged” to have met him and to have worn “such a beautiful piece designed in honor of your grandmother.”

Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue Edward Enninful said Virgil Abloh changed the fashion industry. “Famously prolific, he always worked for a greater cause than his own illustrious career: to open the door to art and fashion for future generations, so that they—unlike himself—would grow up in a creative world with people to mirror themselves in.” He ended his tribute with “Rest in peace, Virgil, a giant among men.”