World-renowned fashion designer, artist, curator and all-round cultural icon Virgil Abloh (1980 - 2021) was included in the ranks of some of the most important labels, brands, and companies throughout his illustrious career (which was tragically cut short due cancer at the age of 41).
Not just a fashion designer, Abloh quickly rose to become a legitimate beacon of inspiration for tastemarkers, musicians and artists worldwide.
In 2019, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago staged a major retrospective of Abloh's work called "Figures of Speech." The show was curated by Michael Darling and featured over one hundred of Abloh's artworks, ranging from paintings and sculptures to installations and mixed media pieces.
In "Figures of Speech," Abloh explored the power of design to challenge assumptions and provoke new ways of thinking. Drawing on his own experiences as a fashion designer, Abloh used humor and irony to examine the relationship between clothing and identity.
The exhibition also featured some never-before-seen prototypes and personal artifacts.
He playfully deconstructed iconic garments, such as the Nike Air Jordan 1, and encouraged viewers to consider the hidden meanings behind familiar objects. In particular, his use of everyday objects like chairs, clothes hangers, and spray paint cans - elevated these items to the level of art. By doing so, Abloh built upon the Warholian concept of challenging traditional ideas about what can be considered art, whilst simultaneously expanding the boundaries of fashion and industrial product design.
While many of these works were created specifically for the retrospective, others date back to Abloh's days as a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
"Figures of Speech" was also notable for its use of social media; guests were encouraged to take photos and share them online using the hashtag #FiguresOfSpeech.
Many critics praised Abloh's ability to blur the lines between art and fashion.
In short, "Figures of Speech" was a bold statement from one of the most imaginative designers of his time. All of the displayed pieces reflected Abloh's unique aesthetic sensibility and creative process. With its thoughtful curation and wide-ranging selection of works, the retrospective offered a comprehensive overview of the artist's career and visitors a unique glimpse into the mind of this remarkable visionary.
OFF WHITE is a luxury fashion label started by Virgil Abloh. The label's aesthetic is defined by its unique streetwear and high fashion blend. It also uses silhouettes and graphics, often with a tongue-in-cheek twist, as well as quotation marks and arrows as branding elements.
Under Abloh's charge, OFF WHITE rapidly gained a cult following, with its designs regularly seen on the red carpets worldwide. The brand is also known for its collaborations with other high-profile labels, including Converse, Louis Vuitton, and Ikea.
In 2017, Ikea and Virgil Abloh created a limited edition exhibition / collection of home goods. The exhibition featured reimagined versions of some of IKEA's most iconic products, including the FRAKTA shopping bag and the BILLY bookcase. In addition to sharply-designed furniture, the collection also included a range of home accessories, such as rugs, towels, and dinnerware. Each item was a stylish and modern take on traditional Ikea designs.
While it sold out almost immediately after it launched, it's safe to say that it was a major success. Not only did it sell out quickly, but it also generated a lot of excitement and buzz around home design, with many of the works subsequently becoming highly collectable.
For Ikea, the collaboration was a way to reach a new audience; for Abloh, it was an opportunity to put his unique stamp on a classic brand. For many people the collaboration was a perfect combination of form and function.
Shortly after Abloh was named the artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, making him the first African American to lead a major fashion house. In his role, Abloh oversaw the design of all menswear collections for the French luxury brand. In 2019, he debuted his first collection for Louis Vuitton, which featured a mix of streetwear and high fashion elements.
In 2020, Abloh unveiled another of his OFF WHITE x Louis Vuitton collection, which featured reinterpreted classic Louis Vuitton pieces with Abloh's signature deconstructed style. Overall, the collection was mostly admired for its innovation, with his appointment at Louis Vuitton marking a vital moment in fashion history that created a profound impact on the industry.
Art in Music
Virgil also made a considerable impact on the way that music is produced and consumed.
The artist was reportedly exposed to various music genres growing up and in particular developed a love for hip hop and electronic music. He also soon began producing his tracks which helped to popularize the Trap music subgenre.
Perhaps Abloh's biggest contribution to the Trap scene was his use of samples from other genres (such as classical music and pop); broadening the appeal of trap music and making it more accessible to mainstream audiences. His success in this regard also allowed him to work with several eminent artists, including Drake and Kanye West.
Abloh and Kanye West first met in 2009. And in 2010, Abloh became the creative director of West's creative agency called "Donda." He worked on different projects, including album artworks like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus, and the joint album from West's G.O.O.D. Music label.
As well as Cruel Summer and his collaboration with Jay Z (Watch the Throne, 2011) that earned the artist a Grammy nomination for art design, Abloh was also a highly regarded album cover designer.
Abloh's signature style often uses bold colors and graphic elements, creating striking visual statements for several artists, from Kid Cudi to 2 Chainz, ASAP Rocky's "Fashion Killa" and Lil Uzi Vert's "XO Tour Life."