NEW YORK — Designer Virgil Abloh, a UW-Madison alumnus and leading fashion executive hailed as the Karl Lagerfeld of his generation, has died of cancer. He was 41.
Abloh’s death was announced Sunday by the luxury group LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) and the Off-White label, the haute street wear brand Abloh founded in 2013. Abloh was the artistic director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear.
“We are all shocked after this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom,” Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of LVMH, said in a statement.
He graduated from UW-Madison in 2003. The university said Abloh “inspired us all with his vision and hard work.”
A statement from Abloh’s family on the designer’s Instagram account said Abloh was diagnosed two years ago with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer in which a tumor occurs in the heart.
“He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture,” the statement read.
In 2018, Abloh became the first Black artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton in the French design house’s storied history. A first-generation Ghanaian American whose seamstress mother taught him to sew, Abloh had no formal fashion training but had a degree in engineering and a master’s in architecture.
Abloh, who grew up in Chicago, was often referred to as a Renaissance man in the fashion world. He moonlighted as a DJ. But in a short time, he emerged as one of fashion’s most heralded designers. Abloh called himself “a maker.” He was named one of Time magazine’s most influential people in 2018.
In 2009, Abloh met Kanye West — now called Ye — while he was working at a screen-printing store. After he and Ye interned together at the LVMH brand Fendi, Abloh was Ye’s creative director. Abloh was art director for the 2011 Ye-Jay-Z album “Watch the Throne,” for which Abloh was nominated for a Grammy.
Abloh’s work with West served as a blueprint for future border-crossing collaborations that married high and low. With Nike, he partnered his Off-White label for a line of frenzy-inducing sneakers remixed with a variety of styles and Helvetica fonts. Abloh also designed furniture for IKEA, refillable bottles for Evian and Big Mac cartons for McDonald’s. His work was exhibited at the Louvre, the Gagosian and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Abloh is survived by his wife Shannon Abloh and his children, Lowe and Grey.