Virgil Abloh, the Cuban-American, New York-based artist and creative director of Louis Vuitton who became a household name after he ended his controversial relationship with Kanye West last year, has died.
Abloh was 41.
He died on Monday at his home in New York, where he had been battling a rare form of throat cancer, his family announced in a statement on Monday.
“Please join us in sending our love and prayers to Virgil’s family, friends and colleagues,” read the statement. “Please respect their privacy as they mourn their loss.”
For years, Abloh was a well-known artist who created colorful graphics and produced limited-edition collections for Nike, Bombay and Phat Farm.
He was an original member of the Kanye West studio, the “woke house,” and his New York-based Public School label.
But he created his biggest splash in the fashion world in 2016 after he left Public School to work exclusively for Louis Vuitton. He came under criticism from some writers and artists for taking part in a Louis Vuitton ad campaign that mirrored the controversial slave-like slave dresses worn by slaves during the 1800s.
Abloh became Louis Vuitton’s most visible African-American creative director. His designs earned critical praise, but also attention for not including men of color and, in some cases, for a lack of diversity in the clothing he produced.
Last year, Abloh ended his relationship with West, but it made headlines when West announced he had lost faith in Abloh’s abilities. West said his decision to leave was made “because of certain things that happened at Louis Vuitton, specifically, that I feel are not true about the brand.”
Last week, the Miami New Times published an online article titled “Racial inequality and black artist Virgil Abloh’s divisive reign at Louis Vuitton.” Abloh was said to have “suddenly resigned,” but the magazine said “family friend” Anthony Saleh’s Twitter account, which bills itself as a source of news in Miami, had suggested that Abloh was “dismissed” and that he had “requested to leave after a heated dispute.”
“There is little evidence that Mr. Abloh had ever been in any trouble at the brand other than an initial back catalog of missteps,” the article said. “And few within the industry understood Louis Vuitton’s deep reverence for Abloh, and the power of his voice, more than the always-busy Japanese CEO Jean-Michel Aulas, according to several sources.”
Abloh spent the last three years of his life consulting for Nike on its advertising. He graduated from Duke University in 2000 and moved to New York to study design. He was influenced by the design of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and by artists Warhol and Damien Hirst.
“If you look closely at old Warhol photos of him, he has about the same hair as I do,” Abloh once told Vanity Fair. “He had same glasses and facial features as I do. You realize what is going on? So I would like to be like Warhol in a certain way.”
Abloh is survived by his mother, Hilda Romero, brother Virgil Jr. and sister Julie.