Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh dies at 41

(CNN) — French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton announced on Wednesday that Virgil Abloh, founder of the Off-White and Louis Vuitton collections, has died of cancer aged 41.

The news comes shortly after the announcement of Maison Louis Vuitton’s expansion into sneakers, raising new questions about the brand’s long-term strategy.

According to a statement on its website, Abloh began developing his talent for fashion, streetwear and design at the age of 17 after he was chosen to assist then-jointly creative directors Nicolas Ghesquiere and Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton’s menswear label.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the news that our friend Virgil Abloh has passed away,” the company said.

“After our very sad moment, there will still be one Virgil Abloh to be known. His talent and legacy will remain a part of our house and to be known all over the world.”

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The partnership, which launched in 2014, was one of the most celebrated collaborations in the history of Louis Vuitton. Abloh created off-the-rack clothing for the label’s first-ever womenswear collection under the same creative team, as well as the brand’s first men’s handbag collection under Pierre-Yves Roussel, chief executive officer.

Since taking over the creative helm of Louis Vuitton men’s wear, Abloh has introduced a number of trend-setting styles.

His menswear brand Off-White has cultivated its own cult following, while he also maintains a broad profile and influences many other brands, both on the design side and within his home country of Nigeria.

His partnership with Vuitton is the latest major fashion brand to institute a new direction.

Top luxury brands, such as LVMH’s Louis Vuitton, French designer label Givenchy and, most recently, Adidas, have announced plans to take a more diverse approach by launching gender-neutral lines, or lines that do not adhere to a single classic style.

American sneaker brand Vans has also launched a range of gender-neutral styles.

“In the current cultural moment, gender-neutral footwear is on the rise.” an Adidas spokesperson told CNN in February.

“We aim to maintain a true diversity within our women’s and men’s collections and are continuously working to bring innovative, unexpected ideas to our customers.”

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