On Nov. 28, 2021, fashion designer and Off-White founder Virgil Abloh died at 41 years old, shocking the fashion world. Abloh had been privately fighting cardiac angiosarcoma, a cancer in the form of a tumor impacting blood flow to and from the heart, since July 2019. Now, his widow is speaking out publicly for the first time since his passing.
In an interview with The New York Times, Shannon Abloh opened up about her husband’s fight with cancer. “It wasn’t like we knew that he was going to pass… Even though we knew the challenge of what he was fighting, it went a lot faster than we thought it was going to. So we never had the ‘this is the legacy that I want you to work toward’ discussion. But because I was with him for so long, I knew every inch of him. I knew every inch of his brain.”
Abloh also explained that her husband did not want to go public with his diagnosis because he didn’t want friends and colleagues to constantly question the status of his health. Although he passed away just over two years after the initial diagnosis, the downtime of the COVID pandemic gave the couple more time together as a family, which includes their two children, Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh. "I know that COVID was an incredibly hard thing for so many people. But for us it was an amazing time because Virgil didn't have to make excuses to get out of shows or DJ-ing."
Born to Ghanaian immigrant parents, Virgil Abloh grew up in Rockford, Ill., where he met his wife, Shannon when he was 18 and she was 17. He was greatly influenced by hip hop and skate culture. Abloh received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master's degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He had no formal training in fashion, but learned from watching his mother, who worked as a seamstress.
At 22, Abloh met Kanye West and joined his creative team. West became instrumental in Abloh's introduction to Louis Vuitton and they would intern together for six months at Fendi. Abloh eventually became the first Black man to be named creative director for Louis Vuitton’s men’s fashion collection.
To honor his legacy, Shannon Abloh is working on creating the Virgil Abloh Foundation to inspire other young people to follow their dreams. She said her husband “didn’t want to be the only Black man in the room sitting at the table” and that he strived to be a model for “kids that didn’t know they could be an architect, or the designer of Vuitton instead of a basketball player or a football player.”
She continued, “That’s what the foundation will focus on: 12- to 17-year-olds, to give them the portfolios they need. I know what he would want, and I feel just as strongly as he did about it — even though I’m a white female.”
Next year, Shannon Abloh will host an inaugural summit with her husband’s collaborators to cultivate more opportunities for minority students.