By the time he celebrated his 40th birthday, Virgil Abloh had, seemingly, triumphed in every corner of the fashion and home design worlds.
In 2013, having already worked for Fendi and partnered with Kanye West, he founded the Milan-based streetwear house Off-White. Four years later, he released the first Off-White furniture line, Grey Area. In 2018, he became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear division, making him one of the first Black designers to head a French luxury fashion house.
Yet even with the Off-White and LV jobs, Abloh had time for a seemingly endless list of collaborations: designing shoes for Nike and Jimmy Choo, making furniture for Vitra and Ikea (“a super-dream project”), creating art with Takashi Murakami and Jenny Holzer, dressing Serena Williams and Beyoncé, co-branding with Levi’s and Evian, deejaying at Coachella and Lollapalooza.
Abloh's process was incredibly innovative — he explained that if he was inspired by an object, he didn’t want to alter it any more than necessary. “I’m only interested in editing an idea or a concept by three percent,” he said. Not surprisingly, he flirted with the limits of permissible appropriation. His first clothing line consisted of flannel Ralph Lauren shirts on which he printed the word “Pyrex.”
And his collaboration with Vitra included a version of Jean Prouvé’s Antony chair that has Plexiglass where Prouvé used plywood. In 2017, the Belgian designer Raf Simons told GQ that Abloh’s work was unoriginal. A month later, Abloh presented an Off-White collection cheekily titled Nothing New.