Virgil Abloh showed it was possible to make it as a Black creative in the ad industry

Creative director of the Too Gallus agency, Barrington Reeves, says the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh was his first Black role model in the creative industries and proved getting to the top wasn’t an “unattainable dream.”

It’s hard to sum up how much Virgil Abloh meant to the creative world, and to me.

He was so many things – creative director, DJ, artist, architect, art director, designer, mentor, set designer, product designer, inspiration, icon. Virgil was more than the sum of his parts though – he was arguably the most influential multi-hyphenate designer that the world has ever seen.

I first stumbled across Virgil Abloh through his first foray into the fashion world, Pyrex Vision. The line quickly became a favorite of the most fashion-forward rappers such as Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, finding its way into music videos and being photographed at fashion weeks around the world, throwing prices from $50 up to $450. Little did we know at the time that this line would be the start of something much bigger – Virgil’s flagship fashion line Off-White.

Setting up the HQ for Off-White in Milan in 2013, Virgil started a paradigm shift in fashion, bringing together the once very separate worlds of luxury and streetwear. His design style was unashamedly him, and he never let it falter or morph into something more commonly accepted.

In 2018 the LVMH group did what no one expected and hired Virgil as the creative director of Louis Vuitton. I still remember the day I read the news about it. It was as if a glass ceiling had been shattered and suddenly the sky above it was shining through, blindingly bright.

Growing up as a young Black creative there are next to no role models. We look around the fashion, design and creative industries and are presented with a stark and sobering image. While the influence of Black communities is arguably one of the main pillars of the fashion world, as you look further up the ladder the diversity slips away, replaced by boards of wealthy white men – men who look nothing like us. For the longest time the path to those positions seemed like some distant, unattainable dream, as if the people from our communities would always be at the bottom, modeling, sewing, giving influence and counsel – but never being truly recognized.

Virgil changed all of that.

Ever unwavering in his dedication to his passion and craft, Virgil carved a path in the creative industries that had never been seen before – he showed it was possible as a young Black creative to be unapologetically yourself and climb through the ranks to create real positive change.

What drew me to Virgil most was how his work did not stop at fashion and clothing design. Virgil crossed industry lines by collaborating with the likes of Ikea on a homeware line, Pioneer on a set of clear CDJ 2000s and Nike on ‘The Ten.’

Virgil carried his love for music throughout his career by playing gigs all around the world. I was lucky enough to be part of one such gig, playing side-by-side with him at Glasgow’s iconic Sub Club. The minute he stepped into the booth it was obvious you were in the presence of someone different, an icon, but you would never tell by talking to him. He was a truly humble and welcoming person, a trait that touched every person he came into contact with.

We have lost a mentor, a friend, a collaborator, an inspiration – one of the most brightly shining icons the world has ever seen. He has given young Black creatives all over the world a sense of hope we never had before. Virgil may be gone, but he carved a path and left it for us to walk behind him.