For the polymath, there is always a cardinal subject, a chief preoccupation around which all the other interests spin. For the fashion designer Virgil Abloh, the polymath of his cohort, who died on Sunday of a rare cardiac cancer, offensively too young, the center was architecture. He studied as an architect, and the training never really left him, even as he ventured into other arts. Abloh’s thinking was organizational, spatial, and mind-numbingly lofty. He longed to build an intricately structured life for his muse, the young Black man. Abloh designed not only this man’s clothing but also his shoes, the music he listened to in order to prime himself for the workday, the furniture he looked upon before leaving for said workday, the shiny vernacular he used in his speech, the high-concept museum exhibition at which he could practice this speech. At forty-one years old, Abloh already did all that, and so the question coursing through the minds of his mourners, whose lives had been quite literally stamped with the fruits of his imagination, is this: What was next?
A Western ideal of dominance neatly grafts onto Abloh’s remarkable life, if you need it to. The pop-culture-obsessive son of Ghanaian immigrants in Rockford, Illinois, slashed an unprecedented path through streetwear to one of the highest mantles in fashion—artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton—and brought all his boys with him. In the wake of his death, his major identifier is that he was only the third Black man to lead a major French fashion house. But his ascendance was meaningful partly because he dispensed with the fixedness of “ascendance.” L.V.M.H. saw him as the skeleton-key ambassador to a clientele it had previously shunned and now desired, but Abloh saw himself as a big-kid enthusiast, a rewriter of our notions of luxury, a true believer in the dreams of the youth. The zeal he brought to finessing a glittery harness or punctuating a puffy silhouette with the bluntness of a pair of sneakers was equal to the zeal he brought to an impromptu d.j. night in Paris or New York or Chicago. His presence caused, or forced, the fashion industry to accept the values it had dismissed as unserious: earnestness, excitement, credulity, love. What could be more serious than love?