Virgil Abloh, a University of Wisconsin alumnus and artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, died on Nov. 28 in Chicago from cancer. Abloh was 41 years old.

Abloh died after a two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, which is a rare form of cancer involving heart tumors, according to a statement posted on his Instagram. Abloh kept his battle private from the public since his diagnosis in 2019.

Abloh graduated from UW in 2003 with a degree in civil engineering and went on to obtain a master’s degree in architecture, according to On Wisconsin. Abloh was a first-generation Ghanaian American who migrated to Chicago, according to Vogue.

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The designer was often noted for saying, “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself.” The Instagram statement said Abloh believed the power of art could inspire future generations.

“Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity and optimism never wavered,” the statement said. “Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design.”

Abloh’s work can be found in the Louvre, the Gagosian and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. In 2018, he became the first Black artistic director for menswear at Louis Vuitton.

Executive Director at the UW Center for Design and Material Culture Sarah Anne Carter said Abloh had a great impact on the fashion industry around the globe by adopting a unique perspective to fashion.

His Public Domain website plays with the very form of a website and its information architecture to transform the way one sees design and the world through it,” Carter said. “He made design and its processes visible in new ways that made systemic change possible.”

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Kanye West helped Abloh launch his fashion career in 2009. West and Abloh interned together at the LVMH brand Fendi, where West eventually asked Abloh to be his creative director, after which his fashion career took off.

Abloh went on to partner with Nike to create the Off-White™ brand. He also designed furniture for IKEA, bottles for Evian and Big Mac packaging for McDonald’s.

In an interview with The Badger Herald in 2015, Abloh talked about how his father wanted him to go into civil engineering, which led him to attend UW. But in practice, the stark differences between his higher education background and his passion for art pushed him to grow as a creator.

“My education gave me something to rebel against in an articulate way,” Abloh said in a 2015 RED talk on the UW campus.

Carter said she hopes Abloh’s legacy will make an impact on the UW community for years to come. Part of this legacy could show how Abloh gave back to the UW community during the pandemic through his fashion efforts.

Carter said the Center for Design and Material Culture received one of his Off-White™ masks in the early days of the pandemic through their Rapid Response Mask Collecting Project. While the university has no official plans, Carter believes this mask will be a “small start” to begin documenting Abloh’s story on campus. 

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Far beyond Madison, Abloh’s death will have a resounding impact across the globe.

The sudden, untimely passing of Virgil Abloh is a huge loss, both at UW and beyond,” Carter said. “He understood better than anyone working today that design, art, and craft – in all facets, forms, and scales – are interrelated. He was truly an interdisciplinary designer and a world changer.”