Monday’s tribute from African fashion designers to American star designer Virgil Abloh was a celebration of their ability to “open the doors” and allow them to be heard and seen in the global industry.
Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s collections, died Sunday from cancer at 41 years old. He was the first major black designer to be recognized in an industry that is often criticized for its lack diversity.
“Thanks Virgil for your courage and talent. You disrupted the flow and made it possible for so many people to see and hear you. “You held the door open, we’ll never forget about you,” South African designer Thebe Magugu wrote on Instagram. She was the first African to win the LVMH prize in 2019.
Kanye West’s partnership with Abloh took him from Chicago’s skate culture and DJ culture to the tops of the fashion industry. He first launched his red-hot label Off-White and then moved into the luxury sector in Paris.
He was diagnosed with cancer just one year after being appointed head of menswear at Louis Vuitton. This made him the first African-American to hold an artistic director position at a French fashion house.
Although Abloh was born in the United States of America, Abloh never forgot his Ghanaian roots. In January 2021, Abloh brought Kente, a traditional fabric used in Ghana during major ceremonies to the Louis Vuitton catwalks.
“It’s a big loss for world fashion, and all the more surprising because it was unexpected,” stated Imane Ayissi from Cameroon, a Cameroonian designer who joined the exclusive circle of fashion houses in Paris during haute couture week.
“He is a role model to a large portion of the population because he proved that it was possible to manage a top luxury house creatively and effectively, regardless of one’s ethnicity or skin color.”
Streetwear from Africa
Bubu Ogisi, a Nigerian designer, told AFP that fashion is one way Abloh paid tribute to Africans living abroad.
Ogisi, the director of Iamisigo, stated that Abloh had also a strong impact on streetwear brands across Africa. His creations feature fabrics and techniques from Africa.
He said that many of his friends have street brands in Nigeria or Ghana and have used references from Off White, referring to Abloh’s luxury streetwear brand.
Wafflesncream, a trendy Nigerian brand of skate clothing, posted the following message on Instagram: “Gone too quickly, thanks for supporting African skatingrs.”
Abloh, a fan of hip-hop music and urban culture, helped to finance Accra’s skatepark.
He also worked with UNICEF in West Africa to encourage education and entrepreneurship.
The designer strived for greater inclusion in the fashion industry throughout his career.
He confided to Harvard University in 2017 that he struggled to see himself as a designer because other designers looked like him.
His achievements give hope to many black creators in the West as well as on the African continent.
Adedayo laketu, a young Nigerian designer who created the couture brand Pith Africa, said that “a few black people in this world have risen above” and truly pioneered a shapeshifting concept that anyone can be everything.
“I want to do more than a billion and push harder because he has shown me and told it’s possible.”