How Virgil Abloh Regenerated a Generation

A true barrier breaker

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It’s not always that a celebrity death has a wide-reaching impact. But if you’ve spent any time on social media over the course of the past 24 hours, you were probably witness to the global mourning of one. On Sunday, news of Virgil Abloh’s passing sent shockwaves across the internet. Considering Abloh’s impact and influence, the 41-year-old’s sudden death seemingly overcame everyone, even those who had been critics. 

Just minutes after LVMH announced the devastating news, my Twitter feed had quickly grown flooded with words commemorating the late designer. Most expressed their shock and extended condolences, and just as quickly, many extended their flowers to the multi-hyphenate. 

If it weren’t clear before, it was clear today: Abloh’s influence is undeniable, and for many unmatched. Even more certain, Abloh’s influence was unwavering to the countless young, black, and POC creatives who didn’t think a career as a creative was possible before his meteoric rise. 

From working on some of the world’s best album covers during his tenure as Kanye West’s creative director, to becoming the first black artistic director in the history of Louis Vuitton, Abloh wasn’t short of sources of inspiration. That’s not counting a multitude of other projects, including spearheading his own label and countless collaborations, all with no formal fashion training. Abloh can even be credited for having a hand in carving out the prominent position streetwear holds in our culture today.  

But above his list of accolades, there’s one thing that stood out about Virgil to his fans that made him distinctive: his ability to move in both the spaces of the underprivileged and prestigious just the same. And when someone who made the inaccessible accessible dies, it’s undoubtably going to have a massive impact. 

“He is one of the reasons I took a very unorthodox route to enter the world of fashion journalism because I knew no one would hire the London black kid that doesn’t sound like he’s from the West-End without building my own platform,” wrote Business of Fashion journalist Odunayo Ojo. 

Far from London, right here in the Middle East, countless creatives expressed their sadness for the loss of Abloh, citing him and his ascent to the highest ranks of fashion as their inspiration too. 

We’ve used the term ‘barrier-breaking’ loosely in recent years. In conversations surrounding inclusivity and representation, you essentially just have to be the first at something to earn the title. It wasn’t—and often, still isn’t—uncommon for the term to be used to describe even the most elusive of figures for having been the first of their community to reach a certain feat. 

That’s not to say that most are undeserving, but Abloh was actually barrier-breaking. He carried an unfathomable force that not only changed an entire industry, but shifted culture that found its way to all corners of the world. And he continued to do so regularly, even as he privately battled cancer over the course of the last two years. 

Just last year, Abloh partnered up with Daily Paper to support Ghana’s flourishing skateboard scene by building a skatepark in the heart Accra. He eventually paid homage to his Ghanaian heritage in his designs for Louis Vuitton’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection. 

For years, the designer showed continuous support for the Nigerian Homecoming Festival. He never shied away from supporting young talent either. In 2020, he teamed up with emerging Nigerian streetwear label Street Souk to design a t-shirt as part of a series of projects he took on under his label Off-White called “Product of Africa”. 

Met @iretidee99 in Lagos 🇳🇬✨ 5 years ago. her vision radiates, still. Africa right now is on the forefront of a youth driven fashion renaissance and she’s curating a scene within it called @streetsouk that is birthing a scene for this generation of Nigeria today. literally and figuratively,” he wrote in an Instagram post. 

Abloh was also no stranger to the region. He’s a regular DJ at Morocco’s renowned Oasis Festival. Most recently, Abloh participated in the Arab world’s very own Fashion Trust Arabia, travelling to Doha to meet, explore, and support the region’s up-and-coming talents. 

Needless to say, Virgil’s influence went far beyond an American or French fashion and art bubbles. That’s in large part thanks to a curiosity that didn’t refrain him to a single silo as he rose up to the highest of ranks in fashion. He made sure to stay to connected to the underground, all whilst securing a position among the most prestigious. The two elements, combined, ensured his impact, and his ability to transform culture gives a new, accurate depiction of what being truly barrier-breaking really means. 

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