Toyin Owoseje, CNN
Kanye West honored his late friend, barrier-breaking designer Virgil Abloh, by dedicating the latest installment of his Sunday Service series to the cultural icon as tributes poured in from around the music and fashion world.
Abloh, the acclaimed menswear designer for Louis Vuitton, founder of haute-streetwear label Off-White and prolific DJ, died aged 41 on Sunday after a private, two-year battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer.
The famed artist was a longstanding collaborator of West, now known as Ye, and served as creative director for the rapper’s design agency Donda. He was also the creative brains behind the concepts of West’s album covers for “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Yeezus.”
Their partnership took Abloh to Paris in 2009, after West had inked a sneaker deal with Louis Vuitton. They made waves at fashion week, with a photo of the duo outside a show going viral. It was that early appearance that put streetwear on the radar of the big fashion houses, Abloh later told GQ.
Shortly after news broke of Abloh’s passing on Sunday, West’s ensemble choir sang a moving rendition of Adele’s “Easy on Me,” the single off her latest album, “30,” in his honor. The message, “IN LOVING MEMORY OF VIRGIL ABLOH, THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF DONDA,” appeared on the screen during a livestream of the service.
The rousing cover was among a torrent of tributes from musicians, celebrities, reality stars and editors to the visionary designer, whose work re-imagined the meaning of fashion and how clothes convey identity in an industry that notoriously lacks diversity.
American singer-songwriter Frank Ocean shared memories of Abloh on his Instagram story, calling him “a hero” and saying the designer had inspired his own late brother, Ryan Moore, who died in a car crash last year, to pursue a career in fashion.
In 2018, Ocean recalled asking Abloh how he was able to balance his demanding career and still manage to respond to text messages “with enthusiasm and emojis and encouragement and seemingly.. with ease,” describing him as an inspiration who “was interested in living and living to the maximum extent.”
“My family was proud of you like you were our family,” he added.
Others in the music industry, including Drake and Justin Timberlake, also shared their condolences.
Drake posted a series of photos of the pair over the years on Instagram, calling Alboh his “brother.”
“My plan is to touch the sky 1000 more times for you… love you eternally brother. Thank you for everything,” the “Certified Lover Boy” rapper wrote.
Singer Justin Timberlake shared his shock, writing on Instagram: “What can you say when a force like @virgilabloh is taken too soon? You gave the world so much, in so little time. And created with intensity… Knowing better than the rest of us that life is too short, but anything is possible. I’m honored to have known you.”
Fellow fashion designer Victoria Beckham shared a photo of Virgil on Instagram, saying she would miss him and describing him as: “A true inspiration in so many ways.”
Reality star Khloe Kardashian tweeted a row of doves and broken heart emojis in relation to news of his death.
Models Hailey Bieber and Gigi Hadid were also among the stars offering their condolences on social media. Sharing a carousel of pictures of herself with Abloh, which included a photo of her on her wedding day wearing the lace dress he designed, Bieber described him as “a once in a generation creative mind,” who transformed the way she looked at street style and fashion.
Hadid, who had worked with Abloh on numerous occasions, said that she was “heartbroken” by the loss of her “dear friend.”
Abloh made history in 2018 when he was appointed as the first Black artistic director to helm French luxury brand Louis Vuitton. That same year he was named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presented an exhibition of the work of “genre-bending artist and designer” in 2019.
His death was confirmed by his loved ones, who shared a statement on his Instagram page.
“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend. He is survived by his loving wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh, and numerous dear friends and colleagues,” the post read.
“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma. He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture”
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