The Remarkable Journey of Virgil Abloh: From Rockford to the Runways


Virgil Abloh’s rise to the pinnacle of the fashion world is a story of exceptional talent, perseverance, and groundbreaking creativity. From his humble beginnings in Rockford, Illinois, to becoming a globally recognized designer, Abloh’s journey is an inspiration to many.

Virgil is one of my biggest inspirations in business, fashion, and creative direction.

In this post, I discuss his early life, career milestones, and the lasting impact he has made on the fashion and creative industries.

Early Life and Education

Born on September 30, 1980, in Rockford, Illinois, Virgil Abloh was raised in a family of Ghanaian immigrants. His mother, a seamstress, introduced him to the world of fashion and design, sparking his interest from a young age. Abloh attended Boylan Catholic High School, where he graduated in 1998.

Abloh’s academic journey took him to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 2002. His educational path continued at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), where he pursued a Master of Architecture. It was at IIT that Abloh was influenced by the minimalist design principles of Mies van der Rohe, whose work greatly impacted his own design aesthetic.

Early Career and the Kanye West Connection

In 2009, Abloh’s career took a significant turn when he secured an internship at Fendi in Rome. It was here that he met Kanye West, a collaboration that would prove to be pivotal in his career. The internship marked the beginning of a close working relationship between Abloh and West, leading to Abloh’s role as the creative director at Donda, West’s creative agency. In this position, Abloh was involved in various creative projects, including album covers and stage designs, showcasing his multidisciplinary talents.

In 2012, Abloh launched his first fashion venture, Pyrex Vision. He purchased deadstock Ralph Lauren flannel shirts, screen-printed them with the word “Pyrex” and the number 23, and sold them at a significant markup. Though Pyrex Vision was short-lived, it established Abloh’s name in the fashion industry and highlighted his innovative approach to blending streetwear with high fashion.


The Birth of Off-White

In 2013, Abloh founded Off-White, a high-end streetwear label based in Milan, Italy. Off-White quickly gained a reputation for its distinctive use of quotation marks, zip ties, and diagonal stripes. The brand bridged the gap between streetwear and luxury fashion, earning a significant following and critical acclaim. Off-White’s collaborations with major brands such as Nike, Ikea, and Jimmy Choo further solidified its place in the fashion world.

Achievements and Recognition

A landmark moment in Abloh’s career came in March 2018, when he was appointed as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. This made him the first person of African descent to lead the brand’s menswear line. Abloh’s debut collection for Louis Vuitton, presented during Paris Fashion Week in June 2018, was highly anticipated and received widespread praise, showcasing his unique vision and innovative design approach.

Abloh’s influence extended beyond fashion. He collaborated with Nike on “The Ten” collection, reimagining ten iconic sneakers, and worked with brands like Ikea and Evian. Additionally, Abloh was a DJ, performing under the name Flat-White, and designed album covers for artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z, demonstrating his versatility as a creative.

Legacy and Impact

Virgil Abloh’s design philosophy was characterized by his “3% rule,” where he believed that altering an existing design by 3% could create something new and unique. This approach, combined with his ability to blend cultural references, streetwear, high fashion, art, and music, made his work distinctive and influential.

Abloh was dedicated to mentoring young designers and advocating for diversity in the fashion industry. In 2020, he launched the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund to support Black students, further cementing his commitment to fostering talent and promoting inclusivity.

Personal Life and Passing

Despite his demanding career, Abloh remained close to his family. He married Shannon Sundberg in 2009, and they had two children together. In July 2019, Abloh was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called cardiac angiosarcoma. He kept his diagnosis private while continuing to work on his various projects, demonstrating remarkable strength and resilience.

Virgil Abloh passed away on November 28, 2021, at the age of 41. His death was a significant loss to the fashion and creative industries, but his influence and legacy continue to inspire.

Virgil Abloh’s story is a testament to his groundbreaking work and the lasting impact he made on fashion, design, and culture. From his early days in Rockford to his role as a leading figure in global fashion, Abloh’s journey is a powerful reminder of the importance of creativity, innovation, and perseverance. His legacy lives on, inspiring future generations of designers and creatives to push boundaries and redefine the status quo.

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