Virgil Abloh, Off White fashion designer, remembered as boundary-breaker after death at 41

Rob Elgas Image
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Virgil Abloh remembered as boundary-breaker by Chicago collaborators
Those who knew him are still reeling from the death of Virgil Abloh, Off White fashion designer from Rockford, Illinois, after a battle with cancer.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Friends, family and collaborators are still reeling from the loss of fashion designer Virgil Abloh, who died after a battle with a cancer at age 41 over the weekend.

The Chicago native took the fashion world by storm, and his creative abilities stretched into different art forms, including music.

Powerhouse shoe maker Nike wrote Monday that Abloh was "a creative force who challenged the status quo, pushing forward a new vision, and inspiring multiple generations."

MORE: Chicago pays tribute to fashion designer Virgil Abloh after losing private battle with cancer

Many others agree.

"As soon as we started talking, I immediately knew that this was an absolute genius, a brilliant person," said Michael Darling, former chief curator of MCA Chicago.

Darling remembers their first meeting in 2016.

"He just had ideas like crazy that were flowing out of him," he recalled.

Darling collaborated with Abloh for about two years, crafting the exhibition "Figures of Speech" at Chicago' Museum of Contemporary Art in 2019. Working with the fashion icon, who would later go on to work for Nike and Louis Vuitton, allowed him to showcase a mere sliver of the talent Abloh possessed.

"I think the hope for both of us probably at the time was that this was the first show, that we were going to put our stake in the ground for Virgil to claim his space in the cultural sphere," Darling said.

Abloh's death came a surprise to many who knew and worked with him.

"A lot of people didn't know that he was actually battling with cancer," said Felicia Fortenberry of TikTok.

Fortneberry recognizes what a huge loss Abloh's death is for the city of Chicago and beyond.

"You can't really define what he meant to the city," she said. "Just to the Midwest, to his race, to his culture."

Abloh was an architect, an engineer, a furniture designer and a fashion designer. Once he interned for Fendi alongside Kanye West. And, his friends and colleagues said, he broke barriers and tapped into his creative brilliance to change modern fashion forever.