Virgil Abloh heard y’all callin’ him “Fifty”—and he’s not having it. The groundbreaking yet increasingly controversial artistic director of Off-White and Louis Vuitton Menswear is seemingly willing to put his money where his (sometimes misspoken) mouth is, announcing a new $1 million scholarship fund “for students of academic promise of Black, African-American, or of African descent.”
Entitled the Virgil Abloh™ “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, it has been endowed with financial contributions from Abloh himself, and further funding from his partners Louis Vuitton, Evian, and New Guards Group (the conglomerate of which Off-White is a member), as well as Farfetch. The Abloh Fund will be operated in partnership with the Fashion Scholarship Fund (originally named the Young Menswear Association) which has operated in the US since 1937 to create opportunities for young American fashion creatives of all backgrounds in fashion.
As one of the rare Black designers to reach the heights of the international fashion industry (currently paralleled only by Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing), Abloh undoubtedly recognizes that with great power comes great responsibility—and great scrutiny. In the past year, the one-time industry darling has faced repeated backlash over his personal politics over the past year, most recently when he commented on the looting that accompanied some of the nationwide protests this spring. Prior, he was taken to task for the overwhelming whiteness of the Milan staff of his inaugural brand, Off-White, as many rightly questioned why a man who had broken racial barriers in a notoriously exclusionary industry wasn’t employing and elevating more who looked like him.
In response to these and other queries about where his loyalty and advocacy lie, Abloh has repeatedly tried to show receipts of the fellow black talents he’s mentored as a Chicagoan, I can vouch for several contributions to underserved communities and as-yet-unrecognized talents in our shared hometown.
“Our city is sort of known—which is a shame—amongst these other beautiful things, it’s always known as like, these stark statistics of reality,” said Abloh at the opening of his first museum exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago last June, where he simultaneously launched the MCA Chicago x Virgil Abloh Design Challenge, an Instagram-based, multidisciplinary design challenge for Chicagoland youth.
“The design challenge is a way for all of us to sort of put some skin in the game, in terms of fostering something new and sort of opening the door for a wider audience that relates to contemporary institutions,” he explained at the time.
Skin in the game, yes. But putting skills in the brain is the focus of Abloh’s new initiative; as Vogue writes: “Education is the most important opportunity there is. It is also unequally distributed, which perpetuates inequality.” Spending his quarantine back in Chicago, Abloh shared that his next challenge is yet again designed to help level that proverbial playing field.
“By the metrics we’re projecting we’ll put 100 kids, Black kids, through a wide spectrum of educational institutions,” he said, specifically indicting the inequities within his own industry. “[A] benefit of this uprising is that we are paying attention to systemic problems...we can’t move on….
To some, $1 million may sound meager for a luxury designer (International Business Times assesses Abloh’s current net worth at $4 million), Vogue reports it’s only the initial investment for the Virgil Abloh™ “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund.
“It’s time for us not to make this industry about fashion, but about people,.” said the designer. “And I’ve been pouring that into my own work. I’m looking at this as a call to action for me to take on more challenges that don’t only end up on the runway, but that end up changing people’s lives.”