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Remembering Virgil Abloh - Sneakers, Fashion, Art

“Once-in-a-generation” has been used to describe prolific figures like Albert Einstein, Shakespeare, and da Vinci. Looking to more modern times, the late-great Virgil Abloh’s legacy - while short - changed the face of fashion forever. His label Pyrex Vision was simple but set the foundation for his career and over time he honed his skills to build his marquee fashion house, Off-White.

Virgil's cutting-edge designs and blending of streetwear with high fashion would eventually lead him to become Louis Vuitton’s Director of Men’s Fashion. Despite his countless accomplishments, his collaboration with Nike stands above them all. Virgil's work on Nike’s “The Ten” allowed The Swoosh to regain its cultural cache and attract a new generation of sneakerheads.

Now two years removed from his passing, we're taking a look back on highlights from his life and career.

Meeting Ye (FKA Kanye West)

Though he is currently covered in controversy, Ye helped launch the career of Virgil Abloh. During his studies to become an architect in the early 2000s, Abloh dabbled in fashion. His medium was screenprinting and many of the shops he hung around claim his sketches were so perfect that the shops could directly print from the file he provided. It was during this time a friend and close associate of Ye, Don C, ran across Abloh’s designs. One thing led to another and eventually, Abloh became Ye’s stylist.

The two cohorts would eventually intern for Fendi and truly begin collaborating in the design world as just a year later Ye would appoint Abloh as the Creative Director of DONDA, his creative agency, to help design artwork and merchandise for artists under the G.O.O.D. Music wing and more.

(Image via Startraks/Rex)
(Image via Startraks/Rex)

Pyrex Vision

Abloh took Ralph Lauren pieces like flannels, hoodies, and pants and screen-printed his own designs on the front and back. This so-called “artistic experiment” spawned “Pyrex Vision.” The exorbitant prices for the items were no issue for those in the know as collectives like A$AP Mob and Ye’s circle of friends and collaborators were often spotted rocking these pieces. With some of the biggest names in hip hop donning his work, it was only a matter of time before anyone that was anyone was trying to get their hands on Virgil's Pyrex flannels.

Famous pieces from this time period include red flannels with the number 23 (in honor of Michael Jordan) and Pyrex Vision printed on the rear as well as shorts with the title of the label plastered in simple white text. All of this eventually led to Abloh’s explosion with the founding of his next label in 2013.

Founding Off-White

Defined as “the gray area between black and white,” Off-White has been Abloh’s most successful independent venture to date and has collaborated with countless labels, IPs, designers, and musicians over its nearly decade-long history. As the fashion house grew, so did its offerings with Off-White-branded houseware and kitchenware being offered at the luxury prices expected of such a high-end label. Key collaborators during Virgil’s time with the brand include the infamous IKEA collab, Mercedes Benz, Denim Tears, and obviously Nike (which we will expand upon shortly). Still to this day, Virgil’s work ethic and a keen eye for picking design teams have led to the label still putting out pieces that Abloh would be proud of, as he left an enormous amount of unfinished work behind. Off-White has gone on to be so successful that it is now part of the biggest fashion conglomerate in the world, LVMH.

Yeezus Album

Under the direction of Virgil, the iconic Yeezus album cover art was created as a way to commemorate the death of the CD. For his tour, Ye tapped Virgil and others like Joe Perez and Wes Lang to create some of the most iconic tour merch to date, helping lay the foundation for the current landscape of musical artists releasing merchandise. The Yeezus artwork itself was featured in Abloh’s “Figures Of Speech” exhibit that tours the country.

Off-White x Nike “The Ten”

The year 2017 was a massive shakeup for the footwear industry as adidas had overtaken Nike in the hype wars thanks to the Boost craze and collaborations with Pharrell Williams and of course, Ye.

Firing back, The Swoosh looked to the rising Virgil Abloh and his Off-White label for a collection of releases that had never been done before - redesigning 10 iconic Nike silhouettes in DIY/prototype fashion. Taking an X-ACTO knife to 10 silhouettes (the AF1, AJ1, Air Presto, Air Vapormax, Blazer Mid, AM 97, AM 90, Zoom Vaporfly, Converse Chuck Taylor, and React Hyperdunk), Abloh deconstructed the sneakers while still maintaining the core shape of each respective silhouette and dressed them in simple color schemes that aged beautifully over time due to the exposed portions like the foam around the collar. To this day, the original 10 styles in the collection are some of the most sought-after sneakers in the game. However, Virgil’s Estate and Nike continue to release new iterations of various shoes, including the Air Terra Forma. This sneaker is the first Nike product designed by Abloh from the ground-up. Other silhouettes the duo have worked on include the Nike Dunk Low and Nike Air Force 1 Mid. Prior to Virgil’s passing, he teased more silhouettes and colorways on his website, Canary Yellow, with the infamous Off-White x Air Jordan 1 High Canary being one of the 6 new collaborations we have yet to receive.

(Image via NTWRK)
(Image via NTWRK)

Virgil's Appointment As Creative Director Of Louis Vuitton

After Kim Jones departed Louis Vuitton in favor of Dior, the search for a replacement began. Many fashion insiders speculated that Virgil would be the perfect fit for the next Creative Director of the brand. It seems their intuition was right as Abloh broke barriers in the fashion industry with the announcement on March 26th, 2018, becoming the first African American to hold such a title at LV. His first runway show in Paris was a beautiful showcase of pieces he directly worked on with the design team at LV with a staple piece being the colorful knit sweater showcasing the main cast of The Wizard Of Oz in silhouetted fashion. As explained by Tremaine Emory in an Instagram post earlier this year, the four figures represented Virgil, Ye, Don C, and Ibn Jasper, the core crew who rose to fame together in the fashion space and “took the heroes journey to uncharted territory where they were unwanted and they ventured regardless to find that wizard behind the curtain of the fashion industry.”

Another touching moment from his debut collection in 2018 was Virgil’s walk down the runway after the conclusion of the show, passing by a tearful Ye and embracing him in a moment that will live on forever thanks to Takashi Murakami filming his perspective of the emotion-filled hug.

Past this, we continued to see eclectic and Virgil-inspired designs from the brand over the course of the next few years and even saw a moment that only Virgil could produce, an official Louis Vuitton x Nike collaboration (which we will touch on later.)

Off-White x Nike Dunk Low “Dear Summer Collection” (AKA The 50)

The best way to describe most of Nike and Off-White’s collaborations was “limited.” Virgil’s answer to this predicament was the “Dear Summer Collection,” a series of 50 different Off-White x Nike Dunk Low colorways that were classified as “Lots.” Every ten numbers (aside from the all-white number one and all-black number 50) were grouped together based on material makeup and each featured a different colored set of overlaces, tongues, extra tabs, and logos on the midsole. The release procedure was also a major change compared to previous Off-White x Nike releases as random users on the Nike SNKRS app were given Exclusive Access over the period of two weeks. If selected, one would receive a random lot. Many users still complained about the release method, however, rumors circulated that there were hundreds of thousands of pairs released making this one of the most widely available Off-White x Nike drops.

Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1

Just months before Abloh’s passing, he featured a slew of Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 colorways on the runway which caused a frenzy in the fashion industry. Finally, after years of seeing customizers and bootleggers creating this clash of high fashion and sportswear, Virgil had made this reality come true. Although Virgil did not get to witness the official release of the collection, LV and Nike made sure to give his friends and family members pairs of specially packaged LV x Nike Air Force 1s with a note honoring Abloh. After a limited release of monogram pairs via a Sotheby’s auction (which saw pairs sell for upwards of $300,000 and helped generate over $25 million for cancer research), pairs released through an online queue and quickly sold out. If you were one of the lucky few who secured a pair, keep them as a mantle piece as they represent something much more than two large labels coming together - they represent one of the most iconic moments in footwear history and in Virgil Abloh’s legacy.

(Image via Sothebys)
(Image via Sothebys)

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