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Mentality Matters: Brand Insights from Virgil Abloh’s Sudden Passing

December 10, 2021

Virgil Abloh was a trailblazer in every sense of the word, and the announcement of his death due to cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, at the age of 41 came as a shock to many.

Abloh, a first-generation Ghanaian American, was known for the influence he had on the contemporary fashion landscape through the creation of his luxury fashion label, Off-White, as well as his leadership as artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear division.

Abloh’s influence and creativity extended far beyond the world of fashion. For example, he:

  • Made it his mission to mentor and support the talents of young Black creators,
  • Had a thriving DJ career that included performances at Lollapalooza and Coachella,
  • Created cover art for artists including Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus,
  • Designed furniture including the popular Markerad collection for Ikea, and
  • Had a solo exhibition, “Figures of Speech,” at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

This list, shockingly, is not comprehensive, and represents just a few of Abloh’s accomplishments outside of his extensive and important work in fashion.

Virgil Abloh preferred to view himself as a “maker” rather than just a designer, and his curiosity and talent allowed him to impact culture through many lenses.

Virgil Abloh’s death was announced on November 28 and quickly became a top story, as his death represents a narrative on Black artists, health & wellness, fashion, music, art, and more.

What insights does this story and its multiple dimensions offer for brands?

Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech Author jpellgen https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpellgen/

To get some context, review the chronology of major moments below, as told by a representative sample of online news articles throughout the story’s continuing timeline.

Keep in mind these articles and videos are just a handful of the thousands upon thousands of articles, opinions, social posts, videos, comments, etc. generated by this major viral moment.

Most actionable moments don’t reach this level of virality or last this long but these “big moments” are useful for gaining and sharing insights.

For example, the spotlight quickly shifted from the announcement of Virgil Abloh’s death, to additional information on his private battle with a rare form of cancer, to high profile friends of the designer playing tribute to him and his work, to brands he had ties to honoring him at shows and in stores, to Art Basel recognition, all in a matters of days.

Virgil Abloh’s connection to brands was far reaching, as the founder of the cult brand Off-White and the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear division. With Off-White, Abloh collaborated with dozens of premium brands and companies, including Rimowa, Mercedes Benz, the NBA, Levi’s, Moncler, Jimmy Choo, Kith, Timberland, Byredo, and, perhaps most notably, Nike.

Virgil Abloh’s first ad campaign for Louis Vuitton, on MLK Day 2019 Author Steve Jurvetson https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/

How would your brand have approached this story and all the content it has generated?

1. Does your brand routinely target content in the Fashion category?

2. Does your brand have a multicultural marketing strategy?

3. Does your brand distinguish specific content around death, or completely avoid headlines about death?

4. If you were a competitor of Nike (one of Virgil Abloh’s most notable collaborating brands), would you want to target or block news around Virgil Abloh?

Click this link to participate in a poll on these questions, and we’ll share the results with you via email.

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Virgil Abloh Story Chronology with representative content samples