retail watch | Dec 1, 2021 |
Virgil Abloh’s legacy in home

The sudden and tragic passing of designer Virgil Abloh this week cut short the career of one of the most intriguing, talented and arguably controversial figures in the fashion world.

Even as Abloh, age 41, was best known for his role as artistic director of Louis Vuitton, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he also made his mark on the home space. In October 2020, he produced a collection of home accessories under Off-White, the fashion label he founded in 2012. The 82-piece line—a collaboration with 1stDibs—was one of many ventures that made Abloh one of the most high-profile creatives bridging the home and apparel spaces.

Interestingly, Abloh never considered himself a designer—and in fact disliked being called one. Trained as an architect, he was more of a creator known for taking existing designs and slightly tweaking them. Comparisons to Andy Warhol were not entirely misplaced.

Abloh often worked by what he called the “three percent” rule: He would take something old and revise it ever so slightly to create something new. Earlier in his career, he bought deadstock shirts from Ralph Lauren and screenprinted the word “Pyrex” on them, claiming the result as his creation. A controversial approach, sure, but one that signaled Abloh’s willingness to break unspoken rules in fashion. It earned him critics, but fans too—his work is displayed in museums around the world, and he forged a high-profile creative partnership with another rule-breaker, rapper Kanye West. At LVMH, he was a rising star, playing an increasingly prominent role in the luxury giant’s brands and products.

In the home sector, Abloh’s designs ran the gamut. For Ikea, he created a rug that was a literal re-creation of a receipt from the giant home furnishings chain. Originally sold for less than $100, the rug’s price immediately skyrocketed to $1,000 on eBay following his death. A “Keep Off” door mat was going for $3,000 on the site this week.

Abloh’s 1stDibs collection was heavy on decorative accessories like doormats, stools and doorstoppers, but also including one-offs like deck chairs, tabletop and even a toothbrush. Prices started at $55 for a Kraft paper notepad and $95 for a pair of glass straws, running all the way up to $1,550 for a set of linen bedding, including a duvet.

Love or hate his work, there’s no denying that he was a major influence in the design world and was poised to continue making a significant impact on both home and apparel in the years ahead. Virgil Abloh was, as the saying goes, all about something old, something new, something borrowed—but now the world is a little more blue for his passing.

Homepage photo: Virgil Abloh | Griffon Lipson; courtesy of Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery

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Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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