Virgil Abloh, the barrier-breaking Black designer whose ascent to the heights of the traditional luxury industry changed what was possible in fashion, died on Sunday in Chicago after a two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer. He was 41.
His death was confirmed by his family.
The artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear as well as the founder of his own brand, Off-White, Mr. Abloh was a prolific collaborator with outside brands from Nike to Evian, and a popular fashion theorist whose expansive and occasionally controversial approach to design inspired comparisons with everyone from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons.
Mr. Abloh transformed not just what consumers wanted to wear, bridging hypebeast culture and the luxury world, but what brands wanted in a designer — and the meaning of “fashion” itself.
For him clothes were not garments but fungible totems of identity that sat at the nexus of art, music, politics and philosophy. He was a master of using irony, reference and the self-aware wink (plus the digital world) to re-contextualize the familiar and give it an aura of cultural currency.
“Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” his wife quoted him as saying in an Instagram post. He believed deeply, she wrote, “in the power of art to inspire future generations.”
“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said in a statement.
And though the fashion world was happy to initially categorize Off-White as a streetwear brand and shove Mr. Abloh into that box, from the beginning, he told GQ, “I was adamant: This isn’t a streetwear brand. This isn’t a contemporary brand. This is designer, just the same way that X, Y, Z are designer, where you say their name and it carries this whole esteem and emotion to it.”
He is survived by his wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents — and a legacy he identified during his first Louis Vuitton show, held in the gardens of the Palais Royale in front of an audience that included Mr. West, Rihanna and ASAP Rocky, as well as 1,500 students.
“There are people around this room who look like me,” he said. “You never saw that before in fashion. The people have changed, and so fashion had to.” He made it so.