IT'S NOT EASY BEING YEEZY

IT'S NOT EASY BEING YEEZY

IN A SPECTACLE UNLIKE ANY OTHER, KANYE WEST ASSERTS HIMSELF AS A FASHION FORCE—LIKE IT OR NOT

IN A SPECTACLE UNLIKE ANY OTHER, KANYE WEST ASSERTS HIMSELF AS A FASHION FORCE—LIKE IT OR NOT

In an industry that thrives on composure (or its illusion), the genius of Kanye West is in the undoing: of histories, expectations, production, and even standards of etiquette. Much like he samples, chops up, and remixes eras of soul into his music to move us forward, West’s Yeezy 3 collection mish-mashes militarism, activewear, pantyhose, and outerwear to refreshingly original and offbeat effect. In doing so, he unravels the idea that these categories and barriers need exist. This same idea applies to the presentation and staging of his collection at Madison Square Garden. Some 18,000 fans with purchased tickets watched from the stadium seats along with fashion and music V.I.P.s ranging from Anna Wintour to Charli XCX to Vetements' Demna Gvasalia, the recently appointed designer of Balenciaga. When West pulled away a massive, desert-beige, nylon parachute to reveal a Vanessa Beecroft-staged installation, the audience—which extended to live-streamed movie theater screens across the country as well as online—was confronted with a world that was (again) part Zion in Matrix Revolutions, but also part refugee barge and vertically-economized Elysium tower. West is interested in ripping apart the barriers of the elite fashion system, and his show was a verticalized study in class uprising. If only he could summit the mountain of his own public identity as easily.

Kanye West has mired himself in a bog of his own making, from a branding perspective. Within fashion as much as in upper-middle-class white households across the country, West is perceived as the antagonist. The problem is that he sees himself as more of a hero figure. The reality, I think, is squarely in the center—West is an anti-hero, the type that is sorely missing from the current zeitgeist of popular offendedness, and one who allows (maybe even plans) for his own undoing to become a public theater about the tragedies, follies, and triumphs of creating art. Herein lies his charm.

The dramatic unveiling of his new collection mirrored a sonic unveiling of his new album, The Life Of Pablo, which West deejayed himself from a laptop behind a console, surrounded by a thrashing mob of his closest collaborators. This is not an album review, but the music felt like a magnum opus: flushed with soul, angst, sweetness, humor, and aggression. West called it his gospel record. It recalled his earlier work, from the era of The College Dropout, composed when the young Chicago producer was struggling to land an album deal and had been rejected by Capitol. His automobile accident, breakthrough with “Through The Wire,” and subsequent rise to phenomenon-status is well-documented. Yet his boasting, arrogance, and humor—once necessary weapons—have alienated him from an industry whose validation he continues to seek. Some regard him as overly entitled, rather than someone who's seized every opportunity and run with it. It's worth remembering that the impulse that sparked Kanye's legend came at a time when he felt like he had nothing to lose. Now, like it or not, West has turned fashion on its ear and forced the industry to pay attention, creating a dialogue unlike any other celebrity crossover designer before him. There are shades of anarchy to West’s process. He is certainly a maverick.

But what about the clothes? Yeezy 3 is probably Kanye West’s most impressive assortment yet. His belief in the power of style is a byproduct of his profound understanding of how clothes can make people feel. In other words, West makes clothes that people actually want to wear. Elevating mundane staples, from parkas and leotards to shearlings and shell-toe boots (this season available in both paint-splattered and lavender color-blocked renditions), West favors disintegration as much as construction. Perhaps not enough attention has been given to his influence when it comes to proportion and silhouette. Favoring cropped, wide sweatshirts, muscular racing-paneled pants, skinny ankles, clunky boots, woven sneakers, dropped shoulders, and disheveled—yes, “undone”—inside-out seaming, West creates a top-heavy look that is disarming yet proud. He leads with the chest and puts power into the upper torso. The colors in this collection take the elements of his design up a notch, turning them into color-blocked markings of a Yeezy tribe, albeit one touched by traces of V.P.L. by Victoria Bartlett. (Did she consult on this collection? She, too, was in the audience.)

PHOTO COURTESY ADIDAS

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