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Remembering Virgil Abloh and how his path-blazing career influenced the fashion industry


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Judy Woodruff: The fashion world is mourning the loss of one of its most influential Black designers, Virgil Abloh.

The artistic director for Louis Vuitton menswear died yesterday at the age of 41, after battling a rare type of cancer.

Stephanie Sy tells us more about his legacy.

Stephanie Sy: Judy, Virgil Abloh was instrumental in cementing streetwear in high fashion. An architect by training, his first fashion foray was with rapper Kanye West.

In 2013 he launched his own clothing line called Off-White. And in 2018, he became the first Black man to helm the creative side of Louis Vuitton, the famed Parisian design house.

For more on how Virgil Abloh shaped fashion and beyond, I'm joined by Robin Givhan, the senior critic at large for The Washington Post.

Ms. Givhan, thank you for joining "NewsHour."

What has been the reaction to the death to Mr. Abloh's death in the fashion industry?

Robin Givhan, The Washington Post: The fashion industry has been in shock. I don't think anyone really realized the gravity of his illness. And he was only 41 years old.

I would say the other aspect is just immense sadness, that this was someone at the top of their game, and really paving a way for others, to have such a short, short legacy.

Stephanie Sy: Why did his work have such resonance? Did he have a unique signature you can describe, or was it just the force of his character?

Robin Givhan: I think it was the combination of things.

One was that he came to fashion from really a circuitous route. He hadn't studied at FIT. He hadn't studied at Parsons. He really came from the creative world of music, from creative directions, from branding, from working with Kanye West.

And he also was someone who walked very tall when he got to Louis Vuitton. He was very much proud of the fact that he was a Black designer at that level. And he sought to hire other Black designers. He sought to create scholarships specifically targeting Black designers.

And I also think that he was an incredible source of admiration for a lot of young Black designers, who saw in him someone who wasn't outsized, who wasn't a superhero, who wasn't a genius, so to speak. He was someone who very much was talented, but also human.

Stephanie Sy: How many young Black designers do you think are reflecting on Virgil Abloh's trailblazing path today and thinking, I can do this, I can reach the very pinnacle of luxury fashion?

Robin Givhan: You know, I think the numbers really are countless.

And I think part of it was the fact that here is someone who was an was an incredible optimist, and who believed that he could make the existing system work for him. He wasn't trying to burn down the fashion system as it was. He was just trying to blow open the doors. And I think he did that.

The other thing is that by stepping through the door at Louis Vuitton, where he worked as the artistic director for menswear, he was really stepping into a world that had an incredible heritage, that celebrated that heritage and tradition and exclusivity.

And instead of focusing on that heritage and focusing so much on, like, the craftsmanship of the object, he was focused on the ways in which the object connected with customers. He wanted customers to be able to see themselves reflected in the work, and not have the work sort of look down to the customer, but to really create a kind of community with the customer.

Stephanie Sy: Do you think that Virgil Abloh has permanently changed the status quo in the fashion industry?

Robin Givhan: You know, I think I have hope that he did.

Fashion can be quite stubborn when it comes to change. But I do think that he proved to the fashion industry that someone from his background, someone who looked like him had the talent and had the determination and also had the character to be able to excel at that level.

And, hopefully, if the industry has learned anything, it will be that it should look beyond the usual suspects for talent.

Stephanie Sy: Virgil Abloh is survived by his wife, Shannon, and his two kids.

Robin Givhan, senior critic at large at The Washington Post, thanks you so much for joining us.

Judy Woodruff: A life cut short far too soon.

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