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 Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury group that bought a majority stake in Mr. Abloh’s Off-White brand this year.
The artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear as well as the founder of his own company, 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 streetwear and the luxury world, but what brands wanted in a designer.
For him clothes were not garments but fungible totems of identity that sat at the nexus of art, music, politics and philosophy, and he treated them as such.
“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, said in a statement.
A workaholic who maintained a punishing schedule and moonlighted as a D.J. and a furniture designer, Mr. Abloh nevertheless seemed to glory in having his fingers in as many pies as possible. Indeed, he referred to himself not as a designer but as a “maker,” in acknowledgment of his own omnivorous creative mind.
Just last July, he had been promoted to a new position within LVMH that would allow him to work across the group’s 75 brands, making him the most powerful Black executive in the most powerful luxury group in the world.It was a nontraditional job for a nontraditional personality who was more interested in carving a new path in an old industry than following in anyone’s footsteps.
“Virgil is incredibly good at creating bridges between the classic and the zeitgeist of the moment,” said Michael Burke, the chief executive of Louis Vuitton, when Mr. Abloh was named artistic director of men’s wear for the luxury brand in 2018.
Virgil Abloh was born in Rockford, Ill., on Sept. 30, 1980, to Ghanaian immigrant parents, and grew up immersed in skate culture and hip-hop. He studied civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
When he was 22 he met Kanye West, and soon thereafter became his creative director, a relationship that set him on the road to Paris.
Survivors include his wife, Shannon Abloh; his children, Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh; his sister, Edwina Abloh, and his parents.
A full obituary will appear soon.