Let's, for one minute, forget that Kanye West is a platinum-selling, chart-topping music artist who has released six highly regarded solo albums in the last decade (to say nothing of his recording broship with Jay Z, production work on various rap and R&B albums, and outsized influence on popular culture). I want to talk about Kanye West, Fashion Designer of Dope Shit™. I've previously considered Kanye's multitudes and his import as a public figure on Gawker—he's "helped to unsettle this idea of how a black man should act or talk or love when others are watching"—but the New York Fashion Week debut of Yeezy Season 1, his first Adidas Originals collection, warrants examination once again, of both the designs and the designer.
As with all things Kanye West, his mere presence alone ignites a surplus of chatter and criticism. The social web can be a particularly torturous terrain to wade through when he drops a new song or album, or when DONDA (his artist-driven "think tank") subtly suggests that a new project is on the way. To that end, it's been difficult to properly assess the Yeezy Boost, the artist's flagship shoe for Adidas that has Kanye loyalists salivating at the mouth. The whole release has played out like a 2015 version of The Emperor's New Clothes for Hypebeasts: few are brave enough to cry out, "But Kanye, why does your shoe look like a less-convincing Ugg boot for men?"
You know those photos that you see with me getting on my knees in front of the paparazzi to fix Kim's pant leg? That's what I want to do for the world. I want to get on my knees and fix everyone's pant leg, if they'll have me. If they'll have me make that adjustment. I want to look at a festival and see what all the kids are wearing, and then say, "Hey I want them to feel like they're wearing the exact same thing, but somehow just a more informed version."
But is Yeezy Season 1 a "more informed version" of what the fashion world needs—or even wants? The collection's muted, Apocalyptic aesthetic was, according to the artist, born from "the shadows of the London riots" and mirrors, albeit less spectacularly, the inventiveness of previous collections from Hood By Air and Fear of God. The minimalist grit stands in stark contrast to Kanye's bombastic public persona; the clothes don't beg for attention. It's a subtle, confident shout by the artist, a new approach for fashion's (possible) new emperor.
But the shoe is another monster altogether. Simply: it's not good, and too closely resembles Nike's Air Yeezy (prior to his partnership with Adidas, Kanye released several shoes with Nike). Despite being the centerpiece of last week's show, the Boost has proven to be less of a risk for Kanye—and all the more a surprise, and disappointment, since he so often succeeds at taking the creative leap.
I'm not sure why so many writers are so unquestioning of West's design qualifications. A friend, over a drink last night in Chelsea, suggested that people are more and more obsessed with power, not least their own relative to the perceived center of the fashion world (which may be Baby North, I'm beginning to think). West has been a fixture at shows for five or six years, and he's gone from being mocked for his first attempt at a women's line to being hailed as a multidisciplinary cultural phenomenon. He is an amazing performer, but his merits as a designer are still in doubt. And it seems to me that the fashion world should be holding West's feet to the fire — expecting more integrity and discipline from him. After all, he still seems to need our approval: There's something touching about his desire to belong to the fashion establishment. In fact, his attitude seems very American — at once earnest and blameless. He may want "to create something better" for us, as if we hadn't a clue already, but it will take a lot more than words.
I'm just happy that I was able to apply the mentality and passion that brought the College Dropout into existence. Now, I may finally have enough of a point of view and understanding to apply and create. Enough of a vision to make. There's so many far more talented designers but I just have a perspective and a heart. And I'm gonna give all the heart and perspective that I can.
So what's next?
More dope shit.
It's a start.
[Photos via High Snobiety]