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Remembering Virgil Abloh, trailblazing fashion designer, UW Alum

Abloh’s death was announced Sunday by the luxury group LVMH and Abloh’s own Off-White label, which he founded in 2013.
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 11:02 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Groundbreaking fashion designer and cultural visionary Virgil Abloh has died; over the weekend he passed from a rare form of heart cancer at the age of 41. He will be remembered as one of the most celebrated artists in fashion and beyond, but here in Madison he will also be remembered as a Badger.

“Virgil is a 2003 UW grad and actually got his degree in civil engineering,” explained Sarah Schutt, Executive Director of the UW Alumni Association. “We know now he never pursued engineering as a career, but he shared in several interviews that the problem-solving mindset that he learned in engineering and his base in humanities, he drew from every day in his work in design, music, and all the ways he influenced culture.”

As the first black artistic director of men’s wear for Louis Vuitton, and creator of the iconic street fashion label “Off White,” the impact of Abloh’s work was felt worldwide. And so was the news of his tragic passing. But no matter where his passions took him, he brought with him the Badger spirit.

“He was already a trailblazer, already a pioneer and setting such new standards across fashion, design, music, any form of art including just cultural influence,” said Schutt.

Abloh’s worked earned him the WAA’s Forward Under 40 award in 2016. The year prior, Abloh gave the 2015 RED Talk during UW Madison’s Homecoming and designed a limited-edition t-shirt for students with inspiration from his “Off White” style. Schutt says the proceeds from the shirts raised more than $30,000 for the Great People scholarship, providing students with increased access to education.

For Sarah Ann Carter, Executive Director of the Center for Design and Material Culture at UW, Abloh is the epitome of an interdisciplinarian.

“He was an architect, he was a designer, he was an artist, and he could really see connections and possibilities across all of these different fields,” said Carter. “That’s something that really allows students to imagine how they may one day be able to give pattern to daily life. All of these daily fields are interrelated and connected.”

“Having him as an alum creates an opportunity for other young people to see how they can trailblaze, how they can envision the world in new ways, how they can have Virgil as an inspiration for that,” echoed Schutt.

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