Examining Virgil Abloh’s legacy

Following the opening of Figures of Speech, a retrospective of Virgil Abloh’s work at the Brooklyn Museum, curator and collaborator Antwaun Sargent talks about Abloh’s wide-ranging influence on culture

“My responsibility, in my canon, is to reflect the times but also put a trajectory on optimism,” Virgil Abloh said in 2021. “That’s what I task myself with as a creator.” Positivity was Abloh’s life force. Everything he did was rooted in an urgent conviction to build a better world. “If we want the industry to be better,” he said, “it requires us to take it to task.”

The remarkable thing about Abloh is that he made this gesture a reality. Every facet of his practice centred on the messy, political work of breaking historical cycles and imagining new infrastructures. Each platform and project was an opportunity to cultivate new modes of creativity and community. He led by example, and his vision was more extensive than any singular discipline. His mission was the elevation of human consciousness at large.

Prolific doesn’t cut it when describing Abloh’s ever-expanding creative ecosystem. He studied civil engineering and architecture and 15 years later was the men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton and founder and CEO of Off-White. This ability to traverse genre and collapse hierarchies became his signature. He worked with Kanye West, Nike, Evian, Ikea, Vitra, and Mercedes-Benz. He designed album covers, buildings, sneakers, dresses and furniture. He made sculptures and paintings while directing music videos and holding DJ residencies.

Top: Mannequins for Men’s Spring Summer 2019 Collection, Louis Vuitton Ideation Studio with creative
direction by Virgil Abloh; Above: Times: Flames, 2018, Virgil Abloh and Takashi Murakami

Abloh passionately disregarded the long upheld sacred space of keeping genres individual; for him, no discipline equalled freedom. He vehemently believed that there are no rules and that in the future, we won’t be able to see any defined edges of genres; instead, all categories will be allowed to inform each other. The result is an empowering vision of unchartered territories that holds vital space for a new archetype of what a designer can be and do.

DESIGNER

LONDON