RCA Launches Scholarship for Black British Students

Honouring designer who championed equality and who died a year ago this week

Designer Virgil Abloh
Designer Virgil Abloh. Picture: Royal College of Art

The Royal College of Art, whose new flagship building is on Hester Road, has launched a scholarship worth tens of thousands of pounds to be offered to an “extraordinarily talented, but financially restricted” Black British student on any programme in its School of Design from the next academic year.

The Virgil Abloh Scholarship is a full tuition fee scholarship, including maintenance support and totalling £35,000. It is named after the American fashion designer, who was artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear.

The aim of the scheme is for the selected Virgil Abloh scholar to study without financial constraints and to push the boundaries of their practice, fulfilling their creative potential. The initiative also aims to help break down barriers to education and support the next generation of visionary designers and innovators.

Alongside the educational funding, the selected scholar will benefit from industry experience and networking opportunities, and will be supported by British fashion designer Samuel Ross, who is perhaps best known for founding the fashion label A-COLD-WALL* and working with brands such as Off-White, Oakley, Nike and Barney's.

MA Fashion Graduate Show 2022 at the Royal College of Art. Picture: Richard Haughton/RCA
MA Fashion Graduate Show 2022 at the Royal College of Art. Picture: Richard Haughton/RCA

Virgil Abloh, who died exactly a year ago this week after suffering from cancer, joined the Royal College of Art as an Honorary Visiting Professor in 2020. A spokesperson said, “He embodied the RCA’s spirit of collaboration and ingenuity, and hoped to enable students from across the College to benefit from his wealth of experience as a leading figure in international fashion and design. In the short time he was associated with the College, he made a significant impact on the RCA community.”

Born on September 30th 1980, in Rockford, Illinois to Ghanaian immigrant parents, Abloh was a trained architect who also originally worked in street fashion, leading to an internship at luxury Italian fashion house Fendi where he worked alongside fellow intern, US rapper Kanye West. As well as being the first African American to hold the position of artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear, Abloh was also the Founder and CEO of Milan-based, ultra-cool fashion house Off-White, and Alaska Alaska, his London studio which famously designed a fully functional cardboard chair and is staffed by young, multi-disciplinary creators, handpicked by Virgil himself.

In 2019 Virgil Abloh collaborated with IKEA to design furniture as well as the now iconic, easy-to-carry, reusable Markerad tote bags with the word sculpture imprinted in the middle.

Abloh practised a career-long ethos to create social change and nurtured his position as a renowned champion for equality of opportunity across the creative industries. The RCA’s Head of Programme MA Fashion, Zowie Broach, said, “This amazing legacy will offer young Black British designers an opportunity where, I have no doubt, they will feel his power and continue forth to inspire and create even more change.”

The annual scholarship will apply to all areas of postgraduate study within the RCA School of Design, including Fashion, Textiles, Design Products, Service Design and Intelligent Mobility. It has been established with the support of the late designer’s wife, Shannon Abloh, and the Fashion Scholarship Fund in the USA. It is funded by an anonymous donor.

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November 22, 2022