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Virgil Abloh was so loved, but he should have been celebrated long before death


By Sarah Finnan
29th Nov 2021

Virgil Abloh / Instagram

Virgil Abloh was so loved, but he should have been celebrated long before death

Tributes continue to pour in for designer Virgil Abloh, but it shouldn't take tragedy for us to celebrate those we love.

The world is currently mourning the loss of designer Virgil Abloh, but as social media continues to chart his unparalleled contributions to fashion, I can’t help but question why it often takes tragedy for us to truly appreciate the impact that certain people have had on us. 

Only 41 years young, his sudden death comes as a surprise to many who didn’t know that he was sick. Behind the scenes though Virgil had been battling a “rare, aggressive form of cancer” called cardiac angiosarcoma for over two years. “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,” a spokesperson for the Abloh family confirmed. But his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered.

One of the great visionaries of his time, the Chicago native had an impressive career throughout his life. First coming to prominence after he graduated and began working as Kanye West’s creative director, Abloh later founded his own celeb-favourite brand Off-White, before being named artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections in 2018 – the first Black man to get the role and the third to lead a French luxury fashion house.  

You could talk a lifetime about his barrier-breaking achievements and creativity – he did so much for the culture that it would be warranted, too – but his legacy goes beyond that and it’s the personal impression he leaves behind that really speaks to his greatness. Collecting a loyal army of friends, fans, and supporters along the way, they’ve all been united in their grief with the resounding message being that he was a rarity. 

Descriptions range from “the most humble and especially kind” to “the most supportive legend”. Each tribute more effusive and devastating than the next, they’re laden with superlatives and compliments of the highest order. “If you had the privilege of knowing Virgil, you were one of the lucky ones,” Kendall Jenner wrote alongside photos and videos of the two together. “He had the most wonderful way of making you feel so special. His genuine smile would warm your heart,” she continued. 

Hailey Bieber echoed much the same thoughts, noting, “I will never be able to fully express how grateful I am to have known him and worked with him.” “He was the best of us. The very best of us,” stylist Gabriella Karefa-Johnson added. 

Even those who only had the pleasure of meeting Virgil once have since recalled just how poignant a moment it was for them. He gave journalists his personal phone number when asked about the possibility of future collaborations, he followed up with those he met to see how they were doing. He stood triumphantly atop the mountain but he was uninterested in being there alone; he wanted to pull other creatives up with him too. Perhaps the saddest part is that much of the admiration people had for him went unsaid though. Yes, it was probably inferred or implied, but did he really know how much he meant to so many? 

“I just knew he was a force of nature. He spoke with such passion and enthusiasm, I couldn’t help but be marvelled by such an individual who was ready to take the world by storm,” Canadian photographer Tommy Ton wrote of his friend.” Jump a couple of lines down and he admits to never having actually told Virgil this. “I never got to formally thank him and tell him how proud I was of what he accomplished and manifested.” 

Writer Aja Barber makes a valid point though; the more we learn about him, the more we realise his influence and that maybe he wasn’t celebrated enough while he was here. “He was someone to everyone” as Bella Hadid put it. The outpouring of love for him in the wake of his passing should come as no surprise, but it shouldn’t take death for us to express such feelings. We should push to talk about these things before it’s too late.