This file photo shows US fashion designer Virgil Abloh acknowledging the audience at the end of the presentation of Louis Vuitton's creation during the men's spring/summer 2020 fashion collection in Paris. -AFP photos

Top US fashion designer Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear collection, died Sunday aged 41 after battling cancer for several years, the fashion and luxury house's French owners LVMH announced. Abloh, the first black American creative director of a top French fashion house, brought streetwear such as hoodies and sneakers to the catwalk. He transcended the fashion world and his untimely death at the peak of his career sent shockwaves across the globe, with tributes pouring in from rival design houses but also actors and sportspeople for a man seen as a deeply humane visionary.

"We are all shocked by this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, but also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom," LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault said in a statement. "The LVMH family joins me in this moment of great sorrow and we are all thinking of his loved ones after the passing of their husband, their father, their brother or their friend," he added in the statement posted on LVMH's Twitter account. The group said he had been "battling privately" against cancer for several years. Abloh was chosen to be artistic director of Louis Vuitton's menswear collection in 2018. His parents had immigrated to the United States from Ghana.

This file photo taken on June 23, 2018 shows US fashion designer for Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, attending the Dior Men's Spring/Summer 2019 fashion show in Paris.

LVMH also announced earlier this year it was taking a majority stake in the luxury streetwear label Off-White created by Abloh. LVMH took 60-percent stake in Off-White and Abloh retained 40 percent. Abloh has addressed both environmental and social issues in his work with Louis Vuitton, with anti-racist and anti-homophobia messages at his January show in Paris. He said earlier this year he planned to use his partnership with LVMH "to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion in the industries we serve".

Kim Jones, the artistic director of menswear at French fashion house Dior said: "So sad to hear about the passing of dear Virgil, one of the kindest people you could ever meet." Rival Italian luxury fashion house Gucci hailed Abloh as an "immense inspiration to us all both as a designer and as a person. "He will be deeply missed though his vision will live on through the trails that he blazed throughout his career," Gucci added on its Twitter account.

'No one will forget impact'

The king of luxury streetwear, Abloh had established himself within a few years as one of the most sought-after designers in the world. His trademark was a style reflecting street culture, with sneakers and sweatshirts, but also an easily recognizable logo, made of oblique black and white bands. He enjoyed successful collaborations with the likes of Nike, Jimmy Choo and Moncler.

Abloh created his first label, Pyrex Vision, in 2012. A year later, Off-White was born, a luxury streetwear brand, which won a following through its eye-catching branding before evolving towards more "couture" creations. Abloh was one of a handful of fashion designers who had a close following well beyond the industry and was a celebrity name in his own right.

Long-time friend and collaborator Kanye West dedicated his weekly gathering "Sunday Service" to Abloh, with a livestreamed choir rendition of Adele's new hit "Easy On Me". Canadian rapper Drake thanked Abloh "for everything" in an Instagram post. "Love you eternally brother," he wrote. US singer Pharrell Williams also took to Instagram with a tribute, writing: "Virgil you were a kind, generous, thoughtful creative genius your work as a human and your work as a spiritual being will live forever. "Sending love and light to your wife, children, family... you're with the Master now, shine."

On Twitter, French football star Kylian Mbappe posted: "RIP VIRGIL ABLOH. No one will forget the impact you had. God bless you my friend." British actor Idris Elba also tweeted, saying, "Too soon Virgil. You will be missed from this world man." Fellow British actor Riz Ahmed added that Abloh had "stretched culture" and "changed the game", helping to "reimagine what's possible". French actor Omar Sy, famed for his role in the Netflix series Lupin, wrote simply on Twitter: "Rest in Power Virgil." - AFP