Tennis star and fashion icon Serena Williams has reacted to the death of Virgil Abloh, the designer who has died from cancer at the age of 41.
The pair were collaborators, with Abloh, the first black artistic director of men’s clothing at Louis Vuitton, famously creating Serena’s Off-White x Nike sportswear.
Williams donned the designs most famously at the US Open in 2018, which was the 23-time major trophy winner’s return to the Grand Slam circuit following the birth of daughter Olympia.
The tutu design attempted to capture her fierce on-court persona while keeping the legend safe and trying to suppress blood clots.
“You can take the superhero out of her costume but you can never take away her superpowers,” Nike retorted when French Federation president Bernard Giudicelli quipped that “one must respect the game and the place”.
That caused the sportswear giant and Williams to head off to Abloh at his Milan-based fashion house Off White and embark on a collaboration for the ages.
The figure many think of as the greatest women’s player of all time took to her social media accounts to respond to the Chicago native’s passing, joining celebrities including Kanye West and Drake.
“Words cannot express the sorrow I feel on the passing of my friend Virgil Abloh,” she wrote in the caption, to a video shared with her 14 million followers on Instagram.
“I will forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to witness such greatness, such genius and to feel the warmth of his smile. It was my honor to stand next to him.
“He lit up every room he walked into. May his beloved family and friends find comfort in knowing how profoundly his art impacted our culture, and us all. I will miss you,” she finished.
Abloh also spoke highly of Williams. When creating her look for a cover feature for the famous fashion magazine in 2020, he praised Williams’ praising “amazing personal sense of style and grace” and told Vogue: “She is a thought leader, not just a tennis player.”
“She is a role model for millions. By existing, she shatters many stereotypes, and she has earned the right to be celebrated for her on and off-the-court achievements.”
Abloh also described designing her US Open outfit as a “career highlight” and suggested that “black figures bringing our talents to a world stage showcasing our art forms is essential now more than ever”.
“She comes to the table with an idea in mind, so our conversations are fast,” he said of working with the 40-year-old.
Abloh’s death from cardiac angiosarcoma – a rare, aggressive form of the disease – was announced on Sunday on his Instagram page.
“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh,” it said, adding that he had chosen to “endure his battle privately” since being diagnosis in 2019.