For a while, Kanye West's forays into clothing felt almost as exclusive as the traditional fashion industry he was railing against. The Yeezy line's first two collections were pretty polarizing and pricey. Some people just didn't get the high mark up for monochromatic, oversized apparel. They likened it to everything from "future slave gear" to garb worn by Star Wars' "Tusken raiders." Not to mention, the shoes—his most widely coveted offerings—were almost impossible to get unless you were willing to pay three times the retail price.
So, despite West's initial claim that the Yeezy line would eventually be "Zara level," many fans have gotten used to the idea that they would be shut out of the experience. But with today's show for his third collection being hosted in front of thousands of fans (most were not fashion insiders) at New York's Madison Square Garden and streaming at theaters and across computer screens all over the country, it finally felt like West was inching closer toward his lofty goal of democratizing fashion.
How did he do it? By using the same strategy many of the great hip-hop entrepreneurs have before him: synergy. Whereas the Wu-Tang Clan and Master P's empires were easily identifiable under the same brand, West's fashion efforts and his discography exist in a dichotomy. One is ubiquitous, the other is mired by blown credit, sneaker-fiend frustration, contradictory rhetoric, and unfulfilled promises. A skeptic could easily conflate an MSG album debut/fashion show with hubris. But, disregarding Ye's "Yeezy's jumped over the Jumpman" boasts, the Madison Square Garden takeover is his first convincing attempt to meld his fashion and musical ambitions into one seamless package.
And they haven't just been merged; they've been amplified. At the center of West's social-media controversies was the question of whether The Life of Pablo née Waves née SWISH was going to be the album West finally tanked. Instead, there's a gospel choir (Kirk Franklin, ladies and gents) and a self-referencing spoken word ("And I love Kanye like Kanye loves Kanye") amidst the experimentation—along with Rihanna and Future thrown in there. So no.
The Life of Pablo will be in headphones soon. And Yeezy Season 3 will make it into a few more closets. West once again reiterated his promise that his clothes will be cheaper and more Yeezy Boosts will be in stock than ever before. While tattered sweaters and sandy color schemes are still at the center of the fashion line's aesthetic, this collection played a bit more with color block patterns. It looks like he's shifting back towards the more colorful aesthetic he wore during the mid-aughts.
The whole two hours were what you'd expect from a dude who spent most of his last tour perched on his own man-made mountaintop. It was a spectacle and a smart business venture—he sold heaps of album-themed merchandise that bore a similar aesthetic to the fashion on display. He also brought Ian Connor, Naomi Campbell, and Young Thug out to model. Frank Ocean came out of hiding, Anna Wintour stopped by, and the Kardashians were there in furs with Laker Lamar Odom in tow and looking healthy. West also announced a new video game. It's called Only One and centers around his late mother Donda West making her way through the gates of heaven.
The showcase was another coronation of West, yet he still remained human. After the album was over, he spoke to the crowd through emotional exasperation. "It's something that couldn't have happened without God holding me down…"
Here was the major cultural event of the day, maybe even the week, and yet somehow the livestream felt like vérité. Season 3 was showcased by an armada of models, who stood in a stoic militancy, not unlike his first show. But the close-up shots felt claustrophobic, almost voyeuristic, as though we the viewers were peeking into their world. Their eyes looked away while the camera focused in on the sleeves of a steely-eyed model looking annoyed at the intrusion or raising their fists in a black power salute. Then you saw the wide-shot reveal the dense, polychromatic Cult of Kanye. It felt like both a paradox, and a microcosm of West's career as a whole. How does his art remain intimate yet so irreproachably distant?
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