Virgil Ablohs is one of the fashion industry’s most dedicated mentors. To level the playing field for untrained designers like himself, he created the Untrained Designers Association.
Virgil Ablohs, who died on Sunday, was a mentor in several programmes and founded his own. After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, he raised $1 million through his Postmodern Scholarship Fund, backed by Louis Vuitton, where he was artistic director of men’s wear.
He launched “Free Game” last year, an online educational platform with video lectures, learning resources, and inspirational content.
“I wanted to help them advance on the path to ownership of their ideas and brands,” Mr. Abloh wrote on the program’s website. Everyone can use the same ideas and tools I used to build my career. “Free.”
In 2019, he co-founded the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center with Nike, where he mentored ten young artists over two months.
Samantha Smyser-De Leon, 26, said Mr. Abloh influenced her work greatly. “I had been following Virgil Ablohs career long before the NikeLab programme even started,” she said. He taught her to “question everything,” she said. The phrase was emblazoned on a black flag outside his 2019 MCA exhibition, and he often said it aloud.
The concept was powerful to Ms. Smyser-De Leon because it could be applied to so much more than just fashion or design. “It was about challenging our society and improving things.”
Her friendship with Virgil Abloh helped Ms. Smyser-De Leon see herself as an artist of colour. It made her realise that there was no limit to what she and other young black men could achieve. There were no ceilings, and these spaces that were traditionally uninviting to people like him or me were for us.
Virgil Ablohs reviewed the mentees’ projects at the end. She recalls his comments on her project about women claiming space in street wear, which she was nervous to present. “Expanding this into the physical, developing this concept into a space,” she said Mr. Abloh said. And he urged her on.
Larry Tchogninou, 23, recalled his first meeting with Mr. Abloh. Imagine how many ideas are flowing into his brain right now,” he recalled thinking. “He was a thinker.”
“A product without identity is nothing,” Mr. Abloh said when Mr. Tchogninou showed him his chair. It taught Mr. Tchogninou the value of telling “deep stories with what we make”. Then we affect others.
Ameerah Vania Floyd, 29, said Mr. Abloh helped her see that even simple ideas could become great projects. ‘That’s cool,’ he’d say. I like what you’re doing, but now what? How will you push it?
Being in his presence inspired Ms. Floyd. In her words, “you never think that someone who looks or thinks like you could be in that type of position.”
Samuel Ross, the British artist and designer behind A-Cold-Wall, interned for Virgil Abloh after Mr. Abloh contacted him via email after seeing his work on Instagram almost a decade ago. Soon after, Mr. Abloh hired him as a design assistant, and he worked for Kanye West’s design agency, Stüssy, and Off-White.
Mr. Abloh, 30, said of Mr. Ross. “His creativity and relentless ability to ideate became a way of thinking and seeing,” said Mr. Ross, 30. That’s where he learned “the philosophical prospects of a successful career,” Mr. Ross said. 9 to 5 was instantly demolished and replaced by unwavering optimism.
Mr. Ross recalled Mr. Abloh’s availability and willingness to share his knowledge of design and the industry. His presence has been a constant guiding light during his formative years in the fashion and design industries.
“Graceful and intelligent,” Mr. Ross said of Mr. Abloh’s legacy. “Curios and moving.”