Why was Virgil Abloh such a revolutionary fashion designer?

Fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who has died at the age of 41, changed the perception of what “luxury fashion” was, according to a leading black fashion expert.

Abloh, who was the creative director of Off-White and menswear creative director at Louis Vuitton, elevated streetwear into luxury wear and in the process altered the perception of blackness within the fashion industry.

“His way of elevating street clothes so closely adjacent to the black experience into a realm of fashion that historically negated it was quite astounding,” says Darnell Lisby James, fashion historian and curator. “If you look at the past forty years of fashion, you see this transition, and when Virgil comes into the industry, he really takes the ball running, cementing what many of us from the black community always saw as luxurious into (elite) mainstream luxury and Paris fashion. Essentially, his brand, among others before him like WilliWear or even Sean John, proved that luxury can be a state of mind rather than solely focused on price point and brand exclusivity.”

Lisby James said that as a leading black designer in the industry, Abloh “undoubtedly broke down a few doors that hopefully will make things easier for up and coming designers and other designers of colour.” He also said that Abloh “wasn’t just a notable black fashion designer. He was an artist who experimented with various techniques, technological methods and inspirations to push fashion forward.”

Like Willi Smith, Abloh’s legacy will be multi-faceted. “(Smith) was an artist as (much) as he was a designer, dabbling in various disciplines from architecture, contemporary art, dance and digital art to extend his legendary Williwear brand to audiences,” says Lisby James. “Willi became the most successful black designer of his generation. Virgil was certainly in a very similar category today as Willi was back in the 1970s and 1980s.” He adds that Alboh’s “legacy will certainly be steeped in the fact that he was a black man who transformed how audiences engage with fashion and allowed more people to join in on the joy”.

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