Virgil Abloh was here: the immortal nature of the late designer's iconic work and impact

On the first death anniversary of Virgil Abloh, STIR dives into projects and exhibitions celebrating the fashion disruptor’s legacy over the past year.

by Sunena V MajuPublished on : Nov 28, 2022

Dead he is not, but departed — for the artist never dies. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There are no better words to remember the multi-hyphenate personality and legacy of Virgil Abloh, the era-defining designer and entrepreneur, who passed away at the age of 41, last year on November 28, after his fierce battle with cancer. Chicago-born Abloh was a trained architect, who was pursuing his master of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology when his interest in fashion found its way. It is largely believed that a Rem Koolhaas building, under construction at Illinois Institute at the time, paved the way for this interest in the world of fashion. Post his master's, Abloh interned at Fendi, where he met American rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye. The rest, as they say, is history.

In his case, one that elevated the American designer to the status of iconic, with his many creative pursuits. In an interview, Abloh once commented on not distinguishing between disciplines and how having an architectural education can aid other creative endeavours. His high-end streetwear brand OFF-White™ is a direct instance of this thought process. Throughout his career, Abloh has been the Creative Director of Donda and his first company Pyrex Vision; he also founded his high-end streetwear brand OFF-White™ and was the Artistic Director for the French luxury fashion house, Louis Vuitton.

At Louis Vuitton, Abloh etched a vision where fashion transcended trends, it was a continuum, an ever-evolving manifestation of permanence. While many fashion critics have compared his concepts of ironic detachment to Marcel Duchamp's visual art philosophies, for the fashion world, at that time, his was an intriguing take. These ideologies are perhaps the reason why Abloh's creations, initiatives, and memory haven't left the limelight, even a year after his demise. While designers and artists are celebrated even after their death, it is exemplary and uncommon for someone to be as relevant and unforgettable as Abloh. The projects, exhibitions, and events following his demise are a testament to the fact that the world isn't ready to bid goodbye to this fashion disruptor, just yet.

On the first death anniversary of the late Virgil Abloh—the first African-American Artistic Director of a major French luxury brand—STIR looks into events and projects that extend the designer's legacy, keeping him relevant, remembered, and alive in the public eye. This largely took place in the form of fashion shows, exhibitions, projects, and festivals showcasing and celebrating his ideologies, philosophies, design approaches and concepts.

In memory of Virgil Abloh

Exhibitions and events that paid tribute to the visionary designer.

Virgil Was Here

Virgil Was Here, Louis Vuitton Spring-Summer 2022 Video: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton via YouTube

On November 30, 2021, two days after Abloh's demise, Louis Vuitton paid tribute to the life and legacy of the creative genius through their Spring-Summer 2022 show in Miami. Titled Virgil Was Here, the show presented Abloh's childlike curiosity and marked the designer's short-lived tenure at the fashion luxury house. Miami lit up with fireworks and drones displaying, 'Virgil was here,' proclaiming to the world what the visionary meant for both Louis Vuitton and the fashion industry. The show also marked the last show directed by him and showcased the essence of Abloh and everything his fashion journey encapsulates, ending with a voiceover, "There's no limit. Life is so short that you can't even waste a day subscribing to what someone thinks you can do, versus what you can do."

Coming of Age Exhibition

Coming of Age Exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris Image: Courtesy of Fondation Louis Vuitton via Instagram

On April 13, 2022, Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris unveiled a homage to their late Artistic Director. An extension of the 'Coming of Age' exhibition, curated by Virgil Abloh in 2019, the new show was a physical embodiment of Virgil Abloh's world. The Foundation narrated the exhibition as "Diverse but united, the participants serve as an illustration of Virgil Abloh's mission and achievement to democratise the dream embodied by Louis Vuitton, rendering it a domain open to the aspirations of people from all walks of life, all ages, all genders and all races."

Louis Vuitton Spring Summer 2023 Menswear

Louis Vuitton Spring Summer 2023 Menswear Video: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton via YouTube

A yellow brick road runway on the courtyards of Louvre, Tallahassee's Florida A&M University's marching band, flag bearers carrying LV flags, and Kendrick Lamar in his crown of thorns, aiding the voice to the show, was Louis Vuitton's final farewell to Virgil Abloh. The LV men's studio's Spring Summer 2023 show, was the first collection created in Abloh's complete absence but carried a memory of him. Even in his absence, the collection seemed to be a continuation, just how the designer always envisioned fashion. As the runway became a playground, the brand's goodbye to Abloh was rather a celebration of his legacy than a show.

Louis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh Book

Louis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh Book Image: Courtesy of Assouline via Instagram

On their journey to keep every memory, creation, and thought of Abloh alive, Louis Vuitton, alongside New York-based publication Assouline released the book 'Louis Vuitton: Virgil Abloh'. With over 250 iconic images and personal reflections from Abloh's inner circle, including accounts from Nigo, Naomi Campbell, Luka Sabbat, Kendall Jenner, and Kid Cudi, the book is presented as a definitive chronicle of a partnership that redefined not only dress codes but their very vocabulary.

Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech

  • Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Image: Courtesy of jpellgen on Flickr, Courtesy of Creative Commons
  • The exhibition presents never-before-seen objects from the artist's archive, as well as a 'social sculpture,' drawing upon Abloh's background in architecture | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    The exhibition presents never-before-seen objects from the artist's archive, as well as a 'social sculpture,' drawing upon Abloh's background in architecture Image: Courtesy of jpellgen on Flickr, Courtesy of Creative Commons
  • The exhibition encompasses all roles of the designer in redefining the design industry | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    The exhibition encompasses all roles of the designer in redefining the design industry Image: Courtesy of jpellgen on Flickr, Courtesy of Creative Commons

Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech exhibition developed by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago was Abloh's first solo exhibition. An extension of it at the Brooklyn Museum presents never-before-seen objects from the artist's archive, as well as a 'social sculpture,' drawing upon Abloh's background in architecture. Exploring Abloh's communicative power as a designer and his language of transforming designs into figures of speech for people to engage with, the exhibition encompasses all roles of the designer in redefining the design industry.

The exhibition, Virgil Abloh: 'Figures of Speech,' is on display at Brooklyn Museum till January 29, 2023.

RCA's Virgil Abloh scholarship

In November 2022, The Royal College of Art (RCA), London announced the launch of the RCA Virgil Abloh Scholarship. Having joined as an Honorary Visiting Professor in 2020, Virgil had a close relationship with the RCA. "This scholarship aims to recognise Virgil's support for education, his career-long ethos of using his practice to create social change and his position as a renowned champion for equality of opportunity across the creative industries. The Virgil Abloh Scholarship has been established with the support of Shannon Abloh, the late designer's wife, and the team at the Fashion Scholarship Fund in the USA," states the RCA.

Mirror Mirror Music Festival

A one-day music festival is scheduled to take place on December 3, 2022. The official announcement of the 'Mirror Mirror Music Festival' explains that the festival is a reflection of Abloh's thought of bringing everyone together to create. Celebrating Abloh–his legacy, his passion, and his care for others—the festival has been planned with his close collaborators. The line-up includes artists such as—Travis Scott, Skepta, and Benji B, to name a few.

Virgil Abloh: The Codes c/o Architecture

Virgil Abloh: The Codes c/o Architecture by Nike and Virgil Abloh Securities | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
Virgil Abloh: The Codes c/o Architecture by Nike and Virgil Abloh Securities Image: Courtesy of Nike

During Miami Art Week this year, Nike and Virgil Abloh Securities are presenting a four-day event to celebrate Abloh's working codes. With exhibitions, events, and discussions, the event hopes to present the platform as a driver for expanding Abloh's creative ethos, across future projects. Sharing the news of the event, Shannon Abloh, the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Virgil Abloh Securities said, "Virgil and Nike thrived together because he understood the brand's role as a cornerstone of culture, while Nike understood the importance of truly supporting creatives and their visions. This beautiful four-day experience at Miami Art Week will honour their legacy together and champion both Virgil's open-source methods and his genuine commitment to collaborating with and inspiring others."

The Codes exhibition is also the formal introduction for the Off-White™ x Nike Terra Forma—the first original Nike sneaker designed—from scratch—by Abloh and Nike's designers.

Virgil Abloh's posthumous works

A look into the designer's works and collaborations that were released post his demise.

Project Maybach x Virgil Abloh

  • The late Virgil Abloh's cooperation with Mercedes–Maybach culminates in the launch of a limited-edition bespoke S-Class and capsule collection, inspired by Project MAYBACH | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    The late Virgil Abloh's cooperation with Mercedes–Maybach culminates in the launch of a limited-edition bespoke S-Class and capsule collection, inspired by Project MAYBACH Image: Courtesy of Mercedes Benz
  • Designed in partnership with Mercedes‑Benz in 2021, the vehicle was finalised before Abloh's untimely passing in November | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Designed in partnership with Mercedes‑Benz in 2021, the vehicle was finalised before Abloh's untimely passing in November Image: Courtesy of Mercedes Benz
  • The four-seat configuration, steering wheel, doors, lower dashboard and ceiling are lined in black and sand coloured Nappa leather, complete with sand coloured decor trims and strips | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    The four-seat configuration, steering wheel, doors, lower dashboard and ceiling are lined in black and sand-coloured Nappa leather, complete with sand-coloured decor trims and strips Image: Courtesy of Mercedes Benz

On April 5, 2022, German luxury car brand Mercedes Benz–Maybach revealed the final project of their 'Project MAYBACH'—a limited edition Maybach designed by the late Virgil Abloh. The automobile designed by Abloh prior to his death has finally been produced and is available in a strictly limited run of 150 units. "The limited edition Maybach by Virgil Abloh exemplifies the symbiosis between innovative design and ultimate craftsmanship now available on the road," states the official release.

Manifesto Snowboards

Manifesto Snowboards by Burton Video: Courtesy of Burton via Youtube

Virgil Abloh's last project with Burton was to redefine the idea of snowboarding. Four months after his demise, the brand launched a limited edition Burton c/o Virgil Abloh's 'Manifesto' Snowboards and auctioned them off. In black graphics, the snowboards hold the inscription from Abloh Burton Manifesto, "Product that by its existence not only stands as evidence for the evolution of a subculture and sport but becomes an artefact, which proves that diversity within snowboarding is not only an idea, it's actually happening, care of Burton and Virgil Abloh." Proceedings from the auction went to Abloh's Post-Modern Scholarship Fund, offering scholarships to students of African-American or African descent, in the fashion industry.

Louis Dreamhouse

  • Louis Dreamhouse, Fall-Winter 2022 collection for Louis Vuitton | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Louis Dreamhouse, Fall-Winter 2022 collection for Louis Vuitton Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton
  • The last collection designed by the late Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    The last collection designed by the late Virgil Abloh for Louis Vuitton Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Abloh designed the Fall-Winter 2022 collection for Louis Vuitton before passing away, and the brand presented it at the Paris Fashion Week. Under the title, 'Louis Dreamhouse', in a surreal arrangement, the fashion brand showcased the last collection designed by its Artistic Director that reflected on childlike imaginations, theatrical drama, and a cinematic prelude. The runway had a long banquet table, a half-sunken house, a bedroom, and a set of stairs. The show was not only a dreamscape for expressive fashion but also for Abloh's imaginative, creative, and experiential concepts.

Cassina Modular Imagination Collection

  • Cassina Modular Imagination Collection | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Cassina Modular Imagination Collection Image: Courtesy of Cassina
  • Imagined as 'building blocks', the collection has two different-sized block structures | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Imagined as 'building blocks', the collection has two different-sized block structures Image: Courtesy of Cassina
  • As required by the use, these blocks can be arranged side-by-side or into a module | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    As required by the use, these blocks can be arranged side-by-side or into a module Image: Courtesy of Cassina

In May 2022, Italian design brand Cassina revealed the collection Modular Imagination designed by Abloh. Imagined as 'building blocks,' the collection had two different-sized block structures that could be arranged as necessary, either side-by-side or into a module. To connect these pieces, Abloh designed a unique module arrangement allowing its contrasting cylindrical feet to sit in the groove of the other.

Off-White™ HOME at Salone del Mobile 2022

Along with other major brands bringing forth Abloh's design post his demise, is his own, Off-White™ HOME. At Salone del Mobile 2022, Off-White™ presented their fourth homeware collection with a trio of white glazed ceramic vases. Also included in the display was an asymmetric candle holder, tabletop flip-clock, Meteor chair and Meteor screen, both infused with signature Off-White™ symbols and cutouts.

Occasional Object by Alessi

  • Occasional Object by Alessi | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Occasional Object by Alessi Image: Andrea Martiradonna, Courtesy of Alessi
  • The collection was presented within the wider 100-001 exhibition | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    The collection was presented within the wider 100-001 exhibition Image: Andrea Martiradonna, Courtesy of Alessi

Italian design brand Alessi revealed in June a collection of cutlery designed by Virgil Abloh and his London-based studio Alaska Alaska. The collection is tied together with a carabiner and is titled Occasional Object. Through the collection, Alessi and Abloh aimed to bring a new perspective to the mundane tools of daily life. The collection was presented within the wider Alessi 100-001 exhibition where 100 represented the past century of Alessia's history, and 001 referred to the first project of its next century.

Mattel Creations' collection of figurines

  • Mattel Creations’ The Masters of the Universe c/o Virgil Abloh™ “TOY” is a four-piece drop in multiple dimensions designed by Virgil Abloh | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Mattel Creations’ The Masters of the Universe c/o Virgil Abloh™ “TOY” is a four-piece drop in multiple dimensions designed by Virgil Abloh Image: Courtesy of Mattel Creations
  • Throughout the project, Virgil explored his love of youth culture and his desire for everyone to embrace the child within | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    Throughout the project, Virgil explored his love of youth culture and his desire for everyone to embrace the child within Image: Courtesy of Mattel Creations
  • The figures are all designed in monochromatic hues, special packaging, and come with a comic book and art by Reggieknow | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
    The figures are all designed in monochromatic hues, special packaging, and come with a comic book and art by Reggieknow Image: Courtesy of Mattel Creations

In October 2022 Mattel Creations released a collection of figurines designed by the late Virgil Abloh. The collection includes figurines of He-Man and Skeletor in monochromatic shades of nude. While the collaboration between the designer and Mattel began in 2021, it was completed by Virgil Abloh Securities and his design agency Alaska Alaska, after his passing. The 'Masters of the Universe c/o Virgil Abloh' collection features four Master of the Universe collector figures namely, He-Man, Battle Cat, Skeletor, and a Skeletor variation—Skele-God.

The most valuable thing in culture is to find something first - so everyone is always looking, said Abloh | Virgil Abloh First Death Anniversary | Virgil Abloh | STIRworld
"The most valuable thing in culture is to find something first - so everyone is always looking," said Abloh Image: GSAPP student, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Abloh once said, "The most valuable thing in culture is to find something first—so everyone is always looking." For fashion enthusiasts of this generation, juggling in finding a balance between high-end luxury and streetwear fashion, Abloh provided that link, one where both conversations could take place simultaneously. While making a statement through art and fashion isn't new, Abloh presented a niche. He had stories to tell, designs to create and a fashion movement to define. While many noteworthy designers have blessed the industry and many more will come after him, in the fast-paced and fleeting nature of the 21st century, to live beyond your life through art, design, and ideologies is beyond imaginable, transcending to a sense of surreality.  His story and legacy are a testament to every artist and every person who dares to create something, revealing that even when an artist dies, their art never does.

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