Inside designer Virgil Abloh's private battle with cancer

The Off-White founder died Sunday at the age of 41.

November 29, 2021, 6:23 PM

Virgil Abloh, the founder of fashion brand Off-White and the first Ghanaian-American to serve as artistic director for Louis Vuitton, died Sunday at age 41 after a long battle with cancer.

Abloh had been battling cardiac angiosarcoma "privately" since 2019 before succumbing to the disease, according to a statement from Abloh's verified Instagram page.

"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," the statement on his Instagram continued. "Through it, all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered."

Cardiac sarcoma is a rare type of primary malignant heart cancer. Angiosarcoma is the type of cancer that begins in the cells that line blood vessels or lymph vessels.This cancer is known to spread quickly throughout the body but signs tend to be very unspecific early on.

"Angiosarcomas, in general, tend to be fairly aggressive because they spread to other parts of the body early," Ricardo Gonzalez, the chief of surgery and chair of the Sarcoma Department at Moffitt Cancer Center, stated. "By the time you find it, it's usually already spread, whether you see that spread or not. It doesn't take long for that spread to become obvious so that you can see it on a scan or some sort of study."

PHOTO: Designer Virgil Abloh appears at the end of his Fall/Winter 2019-2020 women's ready-to-wear collection for his label Off-White during Women's Fashion Week in Paris, Feb. 28, 2019.
Designer Virgil Abloh appears at the end of his Fall/Winter 2019-2020 women's ready-to-wear collection for his label Off-White during Women's Fashion Week in Paris, Feb. 28, 2019.
Stephane Mahe/Reuters, FILE

"We are all shocked by this terrible news," Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE, said in a statement.

"Virgil was not only a genius designer and a visionary, but he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom ... The LVMH family joins me in this moment of great sorrow, and we are all thinking of his loved ones after the passing of their husband, their father, their brother, or their friend," Arnault said.

Abloh was considered a groundbreaker for Black fashion designers, according to fashion industry insiders. He was also a DJ, musician and furniture designer, according to his art studio's website.

Abloh was born in Rockford, Illinois. His parents were immigrants from Ghana. He served as a creative director for his friend and fellow Illinois native Kanye West (and even designed the cover for his and Jay-Z's album, "Watch The Throne")before shifting to his passion for fashion design.

Abloh graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. But everyone who knew him knows he was a true, free-spirited artist at heart.

Before his run with Louis Vuitton, Abloh paid homage to his Ghanaian roots by designing soccer jerseys for the team Melting Passes in 2017. Melting Passes is an amateur, Paris-based soccer team. The majority of its players are African immigrants who aren't able to participate in bigger leagues because they are not French citizens.

In 2018, Abloh was named among Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People.

After gaining experience interning at Fendi and working with West, he started his own luxury streetwear brand, Off-White LLC. He collaborated with brands including Nike, which he created a pair of shoes with, and designed rugs with Ikea and water bottles for Evian. He also famously designed Hailey Bieber's wedding gown for her wedding to Justin Bieber.

Abloh sold a 60% stake in Off-White to LVMH this year, giving him an expanded role in the company and making him into one of the most powerful Black executives in the luxury fashion industry.

Tributes to Abloh have been pouring out on social media since his death.

"My heart is broken," singer Pharrell wrote on Twitter. "Virgil you were a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius your work as a human and your work as a spiritual being will live forever. Sending love and light to your wife, children, family, and day ones you're with the Master now, shine."

"We would like to extend our most heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of Virgil Abloh, an immense inspiration to us all both as a designer and as a person," Gucci posted on Instagram.

Kris Jenner said on Twitter: "I'm so so saddened and devastated to hear about the passing of our dear friend Virgil Abloh. I'm sending all of my love and prayers to his beautiful family. You are an angel @virgilabloh and we love you."

Designer Dapper Dan wrote on Instagram, "Virgil's life was a testament to how much Black Lives Matter by showing what black lives are capable of."

"I am so sorry to read this. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones. May you Rest In Peace and Power dear Virgil," Marc Jacobs wrote.

Drake posted on Instagram: "My plan is to touch the sky 1000 more times for you... love you eternally brother."

Abloh is survived by his wife, Shannon Sundberg, their two children, Grey Abloh and Lowe Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, and his parents, Nee and Eunice Abloh.