Virgil Abloh’s deep roots in Chicago

Born in Rockford and educated in Chicago, Virgil Abloh’s artistic life was rooted in the city.

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This file photo taken on June 23, 2018 shows US fashion designer for Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, attending the Dior Men’s Spring/Summer 2019 fashion show in Paris. -

This file photo taken on June 23, 2018 shows US fashion designer for Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, attending the Dior Men’s Spring/Summer 2019 fashion show in Paris. -


Virgil Abloh, a prolific fashion designer with deep ties to Chicago, died after a private battle with cancer at age 41 Sunday. 

Abloh’s death was confirmed by LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) and the Off-White label, the highly-coveted streetwear brand he founded in 2012. Abloh also served as the men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton since 2018.

Born in Rockford, Illinois, in 1980 and educated in the Chicago, the artistic life of Virgil Abloh was rooted in the city.

After earning his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he completed a master’s degree in architecture at the South Side’s Illinois Institute of Technology.

He died in Chicago, The New York Times reported.

Frank Flurry, an associate professor and the director of the bachelor of architecture program at IIT College of Architecture, taught Abloh during his time at the school. He said he remembers Abloh as talented, generous and kind.

“He came into the studio once in this very cool-looking hoodie with an interesting accessory attached to it,” Flurry wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times. “When asked by fellow students where he had gotten it, he proudly told them that his mom had made it and — this is what stood out the most to me — that she helped him realize all of his ideas.”

Flurry said although he remembers Abloh as shy, he stood out as a student for the way he dressed and his variety of interests — from fashion to music to graphic design.

Abloh collaborated with Nike to renovate the basketball court at an East Garfield Park chapter of the Boys and Girls Club in February 2020, according to Nike. Abloh called it a “free space for kids to engage in activities rooted in sport that will lead to an active healthy lifestyle and teach teamwork and the determination to succeed.”

Abloh also had a close friendship with another Chicago icon — Kanye West. The two met in 2002 and Abloh became creative director for some of West’s albums, including “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Yeezus.”

After Abloh’s death Sunday, the website for West’s latest project, DONDA, was entirely dedicated to the designer. Blue letters over a gray screen read: “In loving memory of / Virgil Abloh / The creative director of DONDA.”

Following Abloh’s first fashion show as the men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton, he and West shared an embrace captured by designer Takashi Murakami.

In 2019, Abloh’s designs were featured in a popular exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) called “Figures of Speech.

“Abloh pioneers a practice that cuts across media and connects visual artists, musicians, graphic designers, fashion designers, and architects,” The MCA’s website says.

Others mourned the loss of Abloh online. Cole Bennett, the owner of Chicago-based music media company Lyrical Lemonade, tweeted a message he received from Abloh.

“Your eye is vital, only comes around once in a generation,” the message read.

“virgil changed the way people looked at the world,” Bennett wrote in another tweet.

The city of Chicago’s Twitter account tweeted a tribute to Abloh, writing “@virgilabloh was a visionary who shifted out culture, broke barriers and opened doors for Black designers in high-end fashion.”

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