Authentic, rooted, and brave. From his first collaboration with Fendi in 2009 to his work as Art Director for Louis Vuitton and his popular label Off-White, Virgil Abloh has never stopped growing and evolving. The American designer will always be a great inspiration. A rare, but also clear example of how the combination of art and fashion can produce memorable outcomes. Through this cross-pollination, he was indeed able to create not only unique fashion items but also furniture, books and works of art. Working as both fashion designer and artist, he told the story of a generation. And he did so like hardly anyone before him, merging fashion with art and vice versa. For these reasons, the I’M Firenze Digest editorial staff is glad to share these few lines to celebrate his extraordinary career and life.
By Amira Rossi and Marines Salcedo Gutierrez. Images by Amira Rossi and Miguel Gasparini.
Studying chemistry, you learn how the combination of two distinct elements can generate a new substance. This is not an indifferent action, which requires energy and effort to generate something new and fascinating. Of course, to make this happen we need not only energy, but many precise and necessary connections. Almost as if the different atoms somehow needed to be together.
If you take this phenomenon as a metaphor, you realize that it applies about the same to art and fashion. Different, independent areas, yet necessary for each other. Two distant, sometimes parallel worlds, like different elements, but together they can generate masterpieces.
Here too, we certainly need very specific skills, which not everyone has. The so-called talent, creativity, drive. Virgil Abloh was the possessor of this catalyst. The innate, spontaneous spark required to combine two different worlds with cunning, creating original and unprecedented scenarios that left a mark in history.
During his career in the fashion industry, he worked as a designer and creative director for his well-known Off-white brand and for Louis Vuitton menswear division. During his long-term partnership with Nike1, he deconstructed cult models of the flagship shoes, giving them a brand new look inspired by both art and urban landscapes. With different colors, patterns and graphics, and some typical Abloh style accessories like laces and labels, he was able to leave his imprint.
All his designs were influenced by distant inspirations, from the urban landscape – especially hip-hop culture – to classical art, which he used not as sources for research, but also as themes for his work.
In the art world, he didn’t only show his garments in exhibitions and museums, but he also built numerous collaborations with artists and designers.
For example, artist Damien Hirst and designer Tetsuzo Okubo created a capsule collection for Abloh’s digital platform Canary Yellow, which was the absolute combination of their visions and aesthetics2. Made from upcycled clothing, their pieces are “wearable art”, with customizations inspired by some iconic features of Damien Hirst’s aesthetic like skulls and pills.
The real key to his success was in fact the combination of those two worlds so dear to him: the street and fine art. Perhaps he did so precisely to legitimize or even to glorify the person he was before achieving success and who perhaps he still unconsciously felt he was. After all, as he himself said, “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself”3.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, memories of the past make who we are today and chart the way to the people we might become one day. Through art and fashion, Virgil has certainly found the right means to narrate and reinvent himself. And by doing all this, he was also able to give voice to the street in environments where it had hardly managed to have one in the course of history.
He has given to many the opportunity to dream a career in areas where they would never think they could have one. People who would never be interested in art or fashion saw in him a reason to do so. For all these and for many other reasons, in just 41 years of life Virgil Abloh has left his mark on our present and will surely be remembered in the days to come.
Not so much for the person he was, although many testify that he was a man with a kind soul, or for the now iconic garments he designed during his exemplary artistic career, but for what he has left us, his unique approach and pure altruism.
1. Hendricks, B. (2021) “Off-White x Nike: The History Behind Virgil Abloh’s Sneaker Collaborations”, Sotheby’s, Online [https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/off-white-x-nike-the-history-behind-virgil-ablohs-sneaker-collaborations. Accessed 23 February 2022].
2. Hore-Thorburn, I. (2021) “Meet the Upcycler Co-signed By Virgil Abloh & Damien Hirst”, Highsnobiety. Online [https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/damien-hirst-tetsuzo-okubo-collection-virgil-abloh/. Accessed: 23 February 2022].
3. Vacirca, S. (2021) “Virgil Abloh, il designer che ha cambiato le regole del gioco”, Harper’s Bazaar, Online [https://www.harpersbazaar.com/it/moda/storie/a38375844/virgil-abloh-morto/. Accessed 23 February 2022].
Amira Rossi is an undergraduate student in Fashion Styling and Creative Direction at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Miguel Gasparini is an undergraduate student in Shoes & Accessories Design Intensive at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Marines Salcedo Gutierrez is an undergraduate student in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.