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Virgil Abloh, rising LVMH designer, dies of cancer aged 41

Virgil Abloh, an American designer known for bringing streetwear into luxury fashion and a rising star within the LVMH group, has died of cancer at the age of 41, the company said on Sunday.

Abloh, who had designed menswear for the Louis Vuitton brand since 2018, infusing lines with a mix of sportswear and tailoring that had won praise, had been promoted in July to a broader role within the world’s biggest luxury goods conglomerate.

The DJ and creator of the Off-White high-end leisurewear label, a first-generation American born of Ghanaian parents, was one of the most high-profile black people working in the luxury industry and within LVMH.

“Virgil was not only a designer with a lot of genius, a visionary, he was also a beautiful soul and a man with a lot of wisdom,” Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s chief and controlling-shareholder, said in a statement.

In a post on Abloh’s Instagram account, his family said he had been battling an aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, and had chosen to keep his 2019 diagnosis private. He is survived by a wife and two children.

His death sparked tributes in the fashion world, with rival brands such as Kering’s Gucci praising his vision, and from outside the sector too, with French footballer Kylian Mbappé among those crediting his impact.

Abloh rose to prominence in the early 2000s as a creative collaborator with the singer Kanye West. A first clothing label from 2012, Pyrex, did not last long, but the designer quickly built up Off-White into a brand sought after for its hoodies and trainers. It also won credit and prizes in the fashion industry and hosted glitzy catwalk shows in Paris.

At Vuitton, LVMH’s main revenue and profitability driver, Abloh mixed his trademark hoodies with suits and impressed some dubious early critics with twists on more classic looks, amid some scepticism in fashion circles over whether sportswear would be more than a fad.

Conglomerates such as LVMH have been looking to woo ever younger luxury customers, pushing them to rethink styles, while also trying to improve their record on diversity.

Michael Burke, chief executive of Louis Vuitton, told the Financial Times in July that LVMH’s desire to “disrupt a number of businesses” had formed part of its attraction towards Abloh, and had pushed the group to promote him further. He was due to help LVMH launch new brands among other responsibilities.

“I look for people with an immigrant mentality, who are strangers in an industry or strangers in a country, and they’re very hungry, they want to learn, want to be different inside an industry that requires new ideas all the time,” Burke said.

Abloh was not a traditionally trained designer. He had described his inspirations as taken from the street and from modern women, to which he believed some brands were not catering. His shows were infused with music references.

In a 2016 Billboard magazine interview, Abloh said: “I’m trying to create a luxury version, a designer version, of what I see in the street.

“For me, I analyse the modern girl, the girl that I’m friends with. And they’re empowered, they pay their own bills, they have their own style. They wear clothes, the clothes don’t wear them. I see women’s collections that don’t even address that.”

Abloh had also taken part in offbeat collaborations — aside from lines with Nike and LVMH-owned luggage maker Rimowa, one of many brands trying to boost sales with limited-edition collections, he also made rugs with Ikea.

LVMH bought a 60 per cent stake in Off-White in July.

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