I never met Virgil Abloh. I didn’t own anything from Off-White, the company he founded in Milan almost ten years ago. I’ve never met his wife, or his children, or anyone in his family. Yet when I heard of his passing yesterday, I felt an overwhelming sense of sorrow. Sorrow for his children and for his wife. Sorrow for his parents and his friends. Sorrow for the man himself, for the dreams he had that would be left unfulfilled. In that we can be certain: No matter what level of success someone achieves, there is always a plan to achieve, to experience, to witness. There is a plan for more.
It’s a peculiar thing to know of a person and to see a person would some regularity but to not know them. These are the characters in the script of our lives, and just as they play a role in our own life, we play the same role in the lives of others. As I write, there is some person that sees me on an almost daily basis, someone who doesn’t know me and never will, yet there I am, in the car or walking by, a part of their life without being part of it at all. Virgil was like that for me, as I’d see him on his boat and I’d see him at Harpoon Willies. I’d see him at tennis and I’d see him in his car or at breakfast. Once my wife saw him on our road, driving a Rolls Royce or maybe something else, my wife wasn’t so sure.
If you followed Virgil on social media, as I did, there were clues as to where he spent most of his time over the past few years. Posts from Milan and Paris and Mykonos, those places where the fashion icon did most of his business were obvious and common, but so were posts with fields in the background. Behind the wheel of a new 911, with Off-White gloves on and the tell-tale silo of a Wisconsin farm field just barely visible. Or a story with Virgil at the helm of his easily recognizable boat, the shimmering blue waters of Geneva Lake surrounding him.
A man I didn’t know from a world I don’t know anything about found peace in the place that I call home. A man who found fame and glory in dazzling European cities chose to spend much of his last few years at his home in Lake Geneva, battling a horrible disease in private, with class and dignity that I fear I do not possess. I’ve written often that I view the Lake Geneva real estate purchases of the rich and famous to be more noble than their outward appearance. What some see as ostentatious and exaggerated displays of indulgent wealth, I see as little more than a desire to achieve normalcy. It’s been that way in Lake Geneva for generations, and Virgil was just a man that found his way to Lake Geneva to enjoy time with his family. He was a man that I didn’t know, that I never met, but that I feel compelled to mourn all the same.