Trailblazing Luxury Sportswear Designer Virgil Abloh Passes Away At 41 | Ghanaian-American Broke All The Fashion Rules And Won

Image Credit: Twitter @OhEmGeeForever Screen Shot

If Virgil Abloh were a noun, his name would be ubiquity. The 41-year-old designer passed away yesterday, leaving an indelible mark on the world of athletic luxury.

Abloh fell victim to a battle with a rare form of cancer that he had been dealing with silently for two years.

Architected Design Influence

By way of Chicago, Illinois, the Ghanaian-American weaved his brand into the fabric of luxury culture, evolving the way athletes, entertainers, and the world viewed the boundaries of fashion.

After aligning with fellow Chicagoan Kanye West and transitioning from an architectural career, the two began an internship with Fendi in 2009 and moved to Rome.

In under ten years from that moment, Abloh would become the artistic director of the men’s division of Louis Vuitton for luxury powerhouse LVMH. He also launched his luxury athletic leisure line, Off-White, which created subtle creative staples like quotation statements on items and colorful zip ties gaudily embellishing his garments and sneakers.

The Transformative Artist

However, Abloh’s collaborations with Nike would transform the modern athletic apparel game as we know it. Abloh had a mantra, the 3 percent rule, where he would take a pre-existing design and tweak it a mere 3 percent for an explosively transformative effect.

With Nike, an iconic muse in the Air Jordan became a perfect canvas.

“Nike is progressive. They easily could have been like, ‘Don’t do this. You can’t have the heel counter exposed — that needs to be covered.’ Instead, they said, ‘We did a collaboration to find new space,'” Abloh told FN in 2017 about his rendition of the iconic Air Jordan 1 silhouette.

“Air” Jordan

Abloh previewed his take on the Air Jordan 1 at the 2017 Met Gala. As a result, he officially converted the sneaker and its cult of followers into instant Abloh lifestyle adherents.

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The genius of Abloh’s vision was his understanding of colorways as the driving force behind the insatiable appetite for Air Jordans. Abloh’s signature Nike look led to a 10-shoe collaboration with the company, labeled “The Ten.”

Abloh “reconstructed 10 Nike footwear icons,” split into two thematic representations. The first theme, “Revealing,” was designed to seem accessible. The second, “Ghosting,” used translucent uppers. The idea was “to further the idea of revealing and unite the second set of silhouettes through common material.”

A nod to his architectural roots, for sure.

Ubiquity Achieved

The design spectrum allowed Abloh the ability to traverse the Nike universe of footwear. Nike classics like the Air Max 90, Air Presto, Air VaporMax, Blazer Mid, Zoom Fly SP, Air Force 1 Low, React Hyperdunk 2017, and Air Max 97 were all reimagined with the Abloh effect.

Additionally, today’s athletes count Abloh’s creations as part of their luxury lifestyle repertoire. His work is now synonymous with success.

Abloh helped Kanye West with the early Yeezy design blueprint. He then established many collaborations with brands like IKEA and more. Virgil Abloh was a transformative artist. His subtle adjustments to classic brands readjusted the way the world received them.

However, Abloh inhabits a space where you aren’t rejecting fashion staple items, just pushing them forward. It is a legacy that will undoubtedly live forever.

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Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.