“I don’t come from where I’m supposed to come from. So I have to prove that this is design, that this is art, that this is valid.”
Sad times in fashion. The news of Virgil Abloh’s untimely passing (from a private 2-year rare cancer illness) rocked the fashion world this week. But also created shock waves beyond. A pop culture icon whose influence stretched way past the boundaries of the catwalk, Virgil epitomised the modern-day Renaissance man who created product, music, happenings, communities and perhaps most importantly, the myth of the man himself.
Despite all the post-mortem plaudits, as a designer, he was polarising.
He was accused of copying, producing too many collabs, lacking finesse and focus. He was criticised for producing merch, not luxury. Was his brand appealing to me? Not really. Did it matter? Not at all. For the businesses he worked with, he had the Midas touch among a generation of fashion outsiders who craved participation and acceptance via owning the It thing. (He spoke of designing for ‘the tourist and the purist’.) He had a great sense of timing, repackaging the zeitgeist for the new young hype luxury customer. And he did so at any price point, from his Louis Vuitton menswear collections to his €10 version of the IKEA shopper.
Perhaps most tellingly from the outpouring of love on social, his legacy was not necessarily design, but a human connection with – and cheerleading of – those coming up the ladder after him. He certainly seemed to enjoy messaging any number of young creatives. Maybe excessively. ‘Clout’ DMs shared in the last few days show he seemingly was on texting terms with hundreds of people for whom his encouraging words propelled them to aim high.
All very admirable, but did this vast output lead to his demise? I’m curious to know what drove him to push himself so hard. Ego? His own need for acceptance? Or something else?
I remember in 2019, when his doctor ordered him to take 3 months off his relentless travel schedule. His doctor obviously knew something we didn’t. Yet, Virgil continued to push ahead, hustle harder than ever, cementing his place in fashion history while championing the new guard. It seems to me as if he felt a duty to continue his work clearing a path for the under-seen and under-heard, perhaps knowing that he only had a small window left to do it in. Quite a remarkable lack of ego, if that’s the case. As he once told Highsnobiety, “My goal with all my work…is that I want another person to come in after me and do things that wouldn’t have been able to have been done before.”
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGE: Louis Vuitton menswear by Virgil Abloh
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