Payton’s guide to pop culture : Virgil Abloh

Payton Zagacki, Editor-in-Chief

On November 28, the world lost a leading figure in fashion. Virgil Abloh, founder of Off-White and creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, was a true visionary in the fashion industry. Named one of Times magazine’s top 100 Most Influential People in 2018, Abloh blurred the lines between luxury and street wear. In honor of Virgil’s contributions to the fashion world, let’s take a look back at his unforgettable career.

Abloh graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with his undergraduate degree in civil engineering in 2002 before completing his masters in architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006. Rumor has it Abloh skipped his first college graduation in 2002 to meet with Kanye West’s then manager, John Monopoly. Abloh went on to intern at Fendi in Rome with West. Michael Burke, CEO of Louis Vuitton, told The New York Times that Abloh “brought a whole new vibe to the studio and [was] disruptive in the best way. Virgil could create a metaphor and a new vocabulary to describe something as old-school as Fendi.” This internship was the start of a lifelong friendship between Abloh and West, with Abloh assuming the role of creative director at West’s creative agency Donda in 2010.

Over the course of his career, Abloh had some legendary collaborations with some of the biggest names in the industry. Brands range from Warby Parker to Jimmy Choo, but his most recognizable work is known as The Ten, Abloh’s collaboration with Nike. 

Abloh recreated 10 of Nikes iconic sneaker silhouettes in what was called a work-in-progress style featuring the iconic safety tag in the laces that the collaboration, and future collaborations between Off-White and Nike have become known for. In the collaboration, Abloh redesigned the Air Force 1, Air Jordan 1, Air Presto, Air VaporMax, Blazer Mid, Air Max 97, Air Max 90, Zoom Vaporfly SP, Converse Chuck Taylor All Star and React Hyperdunk. Each shoe has Beaverton, Oregon printed on the side, which is where the shoes were designed, and the main material of the shoe. During the design process Abloh took the shoes apart with an exacto knife before putting the shoes back together while keeping the same iconic silhouettes.

Not only did he contribute immensely to the fashion industry, Abloh also directed the album “Watch the Throne,” by Kayne West and Jay-Z, earning him a Grammy nomination. 

Off-White itself has an incredible legacy that will continue to be prominent long after Abloh’s passing. Off-White effectively bridged the gap between streetwear and runway fashion. Abloh brought sneaker culture to the luxury fashion spotlight during his shows, something that had never been done before. 

Abloh gave back to the community every chance he got. In 2017 he created the uniforms for Melting Passes, a soccer team of recently immigrated players whose lack of residency kept them from competing in official matches. Abloh later invited the team to watch the Off-White runway show. There were also 3000 students at his first Louis Vuitton show in Paris. Abloh also worked to support skateboarders and surfers in Ghana and provided the funds necessary to fix play structures and parks in Chicago. Abloh also started the Post-Modern Scholarship Fund to support students and supported black owned businesses and designers during the pandemic. When asked about his philanthropic actions, Abloh said “that’s why I focus on design, while I’m also focusing on asking what and who can I shine a light on. You know it’s not just about making art or fashion for its own sake: there are kids in Accra who can become attached and engaged in the skateboarding community if someone builds a bridge. And there are kids in the South Side of Chicago that need education and health: how does what I’m doing tie into that? What’s the bridge for that? That’s sort of the ethos of my career. You know, I started the Post-Modern Scholarship Fund and raised a million dollars to offer assistance in the education of black students. Those things, they’re critical to me.”