Virgil Abloh’s death in November 2021 sent shockwaves through the fashion world. The Off-White founder, Louis Vuitton menswear artistic director, and style icon, who died from a rare form of cancer at age 41, was an inspiration to so many—but especially to budding fashion designers of color.
Abloh wasn’t just a visionary and a culture shifter. He was also a mentor, and it was his goal to help other Black fashion designers rise up the ranks in the industry.
Following the killing of George Floyd in 2020, he raised $1 million through his Louis Vuitton-backed Postmodern Scholarship Fund for Black students who wanted to start a career in fashion. “There’s one level of the work, which is designing at Louis, but my real job is to make sure that there’s like six young Black kids that take my job after me,” Abloh said to Pharrell Williams in an interview. “What I would be more impressed by is the next candidate for a house that gets hired as the next head designer has this, like, multidisciplinary background, comes from not a fashion school, thinks in a different dimension, and he gets a shot.”
In addition to his scholarship fund, Abloh created a digital resource center for up-and-coming creatives, artists, and fashion designers called Free Game in which he broke down essential tasks like how to name your brand and how to shoot a lookbook.
In honor of Black History Month, we’re not only celebrating Abloh’s legacy, but also three other innovative fashion designers who are making waves and who should be on your radar, too. It’s what Abloh would have wanted.
“Your legacy lives on through your actions, spirit, and optimism,” Samuel Ross, who was Abloh’s protege, wrote in an Instagram post following his death. “We will continue to render and build what you have laid foundations for, expanding into the sectors, fields, and industries you planned to modernize.”
In 2012, Abloh found Ross’ work on Instagram, brought him on as an intern, and then hired him as a full-time first design assistant. In that role, he worked on projects for Kanye West’s design agency Donda and Abloh’s Off-White label, and contributed to projects for Yeezy, A.P.C., Pyrex Vision, and more.
The 30-year-old British artist, designer, and creator launched his luxury menswear brand A-Cold-Wall in 2015 and was named the British Fashion Awards 2018 Best Emerging Menswear Menswear Talent. In addition to A-Cold-Wall collaborations with Nike, Dr. Martens, and Converse (and upcoming ones with Roa and Eastpak), he dropped his new pre-fall 2022 collection in January, which featured a range of transitional pieces including a double layered storm jacket, cuffed pants, and metallic paint-splattered jerseys. Like his mentor, he regularly gives grant funds to emerging designers of color.
Bianca Saunders is a relatively new face in the menswear realm, but she’s already commanding a great deal of attention. She creates imaginative pieces that combine minimalist tailoring with designs that have a “borderline effeminate feel,” she told The New York Times. She is known for her creative twists on traditional menswear, with ruffled shirting and ruched pants inspired by her Jamaican heritage.
Saunders has spoken candidly about her respect for Abloh and how his success inspired her. “It gave me an idea of where the glass ceiling could actually go,” she told the BBC, “because there’s not many people that look like me in the industry in terms of being Black and in fashion.”
Saunders graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2017 and then founded her eponymous label. She went on to make her London Fashion Week Men’s debut in 2018 and took home the 2021 ANDAM Fashion Award after collaborating with Gucci on a short film. “She has already made her mark as one of the most exciting names in British fashion,” writes Zak Maoui in GQ. “Saunders is paving the way for a whole new generation of menswear designers.”
Hanifa founder Anifa Mvuemba had been working on her fashion line for eight years, but she’d never held a fashion show until May 2020. That virtual display of her Pink Label Congo collection was a game-changing idea that she came up with during quarantine. She used 3D technology to showcase her looks on curvaceous invisible models, and aside from the fact that the looks were breathtaking, the concept was so unique that the show went viral.
“[Throughout the pandemic] we saw losses and closures, and for me it was a survival moment,” the designer, who took home InStyle’s 2021 Future of Fashion Award, told the magazine. “When I woke up the next day, Instagram was going crazy, DMs were going crazy, sales were going crazy, and we were just like, ‘What is going on?’ It was so surreal.”
Mvuemba went on to host her first live runway show in November 2021 for her fall collection, which featured whimsical pieces in sizes XS to 3X crafted in bold hues. Models strutted down the catwalk in stunning patent leather coats and pants, her signature knit designs, and strapless bustiers. Hanifa now has a growing list of celebrity fans, including Zendaya, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tracee Ellis Ross.
The work of Abloh lives on in the work of emerging Black designers. Supporting them is the greatest way we can honor his legacy.