PARIS – Virgil Abloh, fashion’s highest profile Black designer and the creative mind behind Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections, died on Sunday of cancer, Vuitton’s owner LVMH said.
The French luxury goods giant said Abloh, 41, had been battling cancer privately for years.
“Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” LVMH’s billionaire boss Bernard Arnault said in a statement.
Abloh, an American who also worked as a DJ and visual artist, had been men’s artistic director for Vuitton, the world’s biggest luxury brand, since March 2018.
His arrival at LVMH marked the marriage between streetwear and high-end fashion, mixing sneakers and camouflage pants with tailored suits and evening gowns. His influences included graffiti art, hip hop and skateboard culture.
The style was embraced by the group as it sought to breathe new life into some labels and attract younger customers.
In July this year, LVMH expanded his role, giving him a mandate to launch new brands and partner with existing ones in a variety of sectors beyond fashion.
LVMH also bought a 60% stake in Abloh’s Off-White label, which it folded into the spirits-to-jewelery conglomerate.
“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma,” a message posted to his Instagram said. “He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”
Abloh drew on messages of inclusivity and gender-fluidity to expand the Louis Vuitton label’s popularity, weaving themes of racial identity into his fashion shows with poetry performances and art installations.
With an eye to reaching Asian consumers grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the designer sent his collections of colorful suits and utilitarian-flavored outerwear off to Shanghai last summer, when many labels cancelled fashion shows.
“Virgil Abloh was the essence of modern creativity,” said an Instagram post by Alexandre Arnault, one of Bernard Arnault’s sons and executive vice president for product and communications at U.S. jeweler Tiffany, which LVMH bought this year.