Kanye West doesn't get bogged down in details. He doesn't trap himself in the weeds with semantics or political correctness. He's like Donald Trump in that way: He says his big idea and hammers out the details later. Case in point: his Yeezy Season 4 show.
When Yeezy dropped his casting-call graphic on Twitter, his favorite soapbox these days, it kicked up a backlash. "Multiracial women only," he requested. Tweets and headlines began to crop up about the colorism of the aesthetic, claiming that Ye's meaning was to exclude darker-hued girls. Given West's history of diversity, putting women of all shades and all colors in his shows and in his materials, that was a curious conclusion to draw—in fact, his last show was the most diverse of all of New York Fashion Week.
"The ten thousand people that showed up didn't have a problem with it," West told Vogue of the backlash. There he revealed that the idea came out of a conversation with Vanessa Beecroft—though that artist has had racial problems of her own. "How do you word the idea that you want all variations of black?" Ye continued to explain. "How do you word that exactly?" And while the wording is off, the casting itself, best depicted in a tableau engineered by Beecroft that could easily be a still pulled from imagery of Beyoncé's current Afrocentric era, best exemplified what Ye was going for. That phrasing was a detail; the final visual, the big idea.
The clothes themselves were nothing groundbreaking. Ye knows this; he calls them apparel as opposed to fashion and speaks of slowly and intentionally building on and evolving his aesthetic of thoughtfully considered military basics rendered in neutral tones. So there's really nothing to say about the clothes. Sure, "Fade" star (and choreographer and artist in her own right) Teyana Taylor looked cute in the black knit cardigan she was wearing. Sure, the cut-out bodysuits looked very on-trend. The show's military-inspired outerwear came mixed with looks that seemed right out of Kim Kardashian's closet with tank top dresses and over the knee boots. But what tweets and commentary about the show centered on was the treatment of the models.
Yeezy Season 4 was a half-day affair. First, editors were bussed from Manhattan to Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, a memorial built off the plans of Louis Kahn, a man some have called one of America's foremost architects. This gave way to an hour wait (the show was running late, as most fashion shows do) outside of the venue, followed by 30-minute tableau style presentation inside. There models stood on the green under the heat of the sun and as time went on, one by one they began to—quite literally—falter.
It's unclear now whether models were given instructions to sit when they needed to but sit, kneel, and squat they did. The frequency with which they did would suggest they were given freedom to do so. Some would sit for a few minutes and then stand again. Others just stood motionless. And then a model fainted. And then another.
In June, the New York Times wrote a feature about fainting models. Any critic or fashion week attendee that has been to their fair share of fashion presentations (as opposed to runway shows) has likely seen it happen. Sometimes it happens because models have locked their knees. Other times it's because of dehydration as well as the heat of the lights. For whatever the reason, it happens in New York, it happens in Miami (I've seen it several times during Swim Week), it happens in the other major capitals. And it happened at Kanye's show. The difference was the outrage.
Particularly vocal was Stella Bugbee, editorial director of New York's The Cut. "Honestly adidas should be ashamed," she tweeted as the German brand had underwritten the cost of the presentation having entered into a new deal with Ye this past summer."This is shameful and horrible and I regret coming," she continued. "Most awful thing I have ever seen at NYFW." Still, considering her high role at a fashion-affiliated publication, I'm surprised that she somehow hasn't witnessed this before.
It's true that Kanye West is a controversial figure. He barks loudly, and the responses, too, can be quite loud. Yeezy staff reportedly said that they were trying to "figure it out" when people asked about models. Shortly before the runway portion of the show started, a girl (seemingly a model) ran across screen to hand bottles of water out to those in the static presentation. So, was this the case of Kanye being insensitive or plainly unaware? Did he just have a big idea of all of these beautiful brown models, in a picturesque scene and forget about details like heat exhaustion?
Considering his last-ditch effort to provide the water, I'd bet the latter. But that isn't to say the practice of having models stand for long periods of time, though widespread, isn't problematic. It, like many of fashion's other problems, has just been highlighted through the inclusion of celebrity. The circumstance is sad, though, as Kanye is quickly about to see his big idea overtaken by these specific details.
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