So I was in the middle of writing another blog post about how hip-hop music and high-end fashion has co-existed in the industry for the last decade or so, and I started talking about Kanye West. And as I was making reference to his four-month internship with Fendi, I thought to myself, “This man needs a whole post to himself. HE IS INCREDIBLE.” And so here I am writing this on the eve of his YEEZY season 5 premiere. I will try to make this post as unbiased as possible because I am a self-proclaimed Kanye West Stan, but Kanye should be your fashion God and I will tell you why.
From the very beginning of his music career, Kanye has always shown an appreciation and admiration for fashion. Addressing himself as the ‘Louie Vuitton Don’, Kanye had a gift to merge his love of music with his admiration for fashion. Kanye doesn’t only love fashion, but he understands it. He also understood that he wanted to influence some of the most culturally influential fashion houses by collaborating with them and sharing his ideas. Which is exactly what Kanye did.
Kanye’s first stunt with collaborative sneakers was with Bathing Ape (Bape), a streetwear line that was very innovative and beyond their time. Pharrell Williams also teamed up with Nigo of Bape and created what is known today as ‘The Billionaire Boys Club’ line. With the backing of the popular streetwear line, Kanye was able to create the ‘Dropout Bear‘ Bapesta alongside, Takashi Murakami and Nigo. A sneaker collection that coincided with his first studio album ‘College Dropout‘.
While creating sneakers with BAPE, Kanye was also influencing the style of his fans through his music visuals. The Venetian blind-looking sunglasses that he wore in his ‘Stronger‘ music video was a designed that was first released back in the 50s. A more modernized design was released during the early 80s, a trend that became popular among the youth during that time. WWF/WWE Legend Macho Man Randy Savage would also wear the shutter shades during promos and before wrestling matchups, an idea that inspired designer Alain Mikli to design a contemporary custom design for Ye. He inevitably influenced bootleggers to recreate a more affordable version of the sunglasses, in which his fans were able to stunt like their idol.
I don’t believe there was any other rapper at that time that worked simultaneously with their music and fashion as much as Kanye were. Pastelle was a line of Kanye-themed gear that he kinda danced around with for a couple of years. It was when we were first introduced to another half of Ye, the designer part of him. He made the first mention of the line during the ‘college dropout’ era, and even showed us what to expect from the line in his music video ‘The new workout plan‘. Although the brand of teddy bear branded gear was in high demand, Kanye sort of went radio silent on Pastelle until 3 years later when he rapped about it in his hit record ‘Stronger’, “So go ahead, go nuts, go ape shit, especially in my Pastelle and my Bape shit”. But over the course of a year, all we got were sneak peeks and teasers as Kanye would later appear wearing a Pastelle hoodie nicknamed the ‘Warrior Hoodie‘ at a Dior fashion show in Paris. He would also appear in an editorial of himself featuring Lupe Fiasco and Rihanna in VMAN magazine. A spread that shows all three wearing hoodies from the line in question.
It was eventually confirmed to us that Pastelle was never going to be released after an article of Highsnobiety was updated. The fashion website revealed that they had received word that Pastelle were to never be released. Ever. But five years later, after the hardened blow Kanye’s fashion protegeé Ian Conner posted several pictures of what we were starting to believe was the comeback of the fashion line.
But it was again confirmed that Pastelle was officially in Fashionably dead and buried. But this didn’t stop Kanye from collaborating with other designers, as he created a sneaker collection with Louie Vuitton. A year after Pharrell collaborated with the French fashion house on a jewelry collection called, ‘The Blason Jewellery collection‘. The Louie Vuitton x Kanye West Jaspers named after Ye’s personal stylist and barber Ibn Jasper came in a “heavy Louis Vuitton shoe box with 24k gold shoelace rings, an extra pair of white laces, plus two small LV booklets that provide a brief summary into the collaborative sneaker.” The limited edition sneakers were only available for purchase at a Louie Vuitton retail store and cost 3 big ones. (Thousand, not hundred)
Kanye will always go down as the first ever non-athlete to have a full collaboration with sportswear giant Nike. The Nike Air Yeezy, which was released in April of 2009 took a period of two years (2007-2009) to develop with the help of Nike creative director Mark Smith. The early prototypes of the sneakers featured LED lights on the outsoles of the shoes. But after heavy consideration over issues with low battery life and cost evaluation, Nike decided to use phosphorescent rubber would be used in place of the LED lights instead. Phosphorescent being the same material that can be found in glow-in-the-dark toys, stickers and etc. Three colorways of the Air Yeezys were released over a course of three months, April 4th, May 2nd and June 1st, all retailing at $215 and selling out almost immediately.
Even though this time, Kanye continued to shell out hit after hit and incorporate his magic and fashion together. With his 30 minutes short film of ‘Runaway‘ from his fifth studio album, ‘My beautiful dark twisted fantasy‘, Kanye collaborated with designer Phillip Lim. Designing all of the custom menswear that Kanye wore in the music video, Phillip Lim also took credit for consulting the color palette of Model Selita Ebanks‘ outfit which included her custom feathered wings that were created by notable costume designer Martin Izquierdo.
When it comes down to fashion, Kanye doesn’t do things half-assed. He goes full throttle in every piece of his creations, including his album artwork. In January 2011, both Kanye and Jay-z commissioned Givenchy‘s Riccardo Tisci to design the cover of their collaborative album, ‘Watch The Throne‘. Riccardo would later design their full merchandise line for their WTT World tour.
Kanye’s influence on the hip-hop community never wavered while working with these high-end designers. During his Greek architecture inspired Coachella performance in April 2011, Kanye wore a Celine shirt from the Womenswear line, along with bracelets from Burkman Bros. After the appearance of the jewelry, Burkman Bros is said to have sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bracelets.
It was the same year that Kanye debuted his Womenswear line collection, ‘Kanye West’. The debut was met by a majority of bad reviews, but it didn’t stop Kanye from continuing his collaborative efforts with different designers. By June 2012, the Air Yeezy 2 was released with colorways of Platinum and Black Solar Red retailed at $250 each. Nike only released 1,500 pairs of the sneakers which made a very limited amount available. It would end up being the last design with the partnership between Kanye and Nike.
By 2013, Kanye wasn’t taking shit from anyone when it came down to his futuristic fashion inspired efforts. It was May of that year, that Kanye exposed the fashion industry of disrespecting him and his ability of designing high-end quality clothing by the only way Kanye knew how. Large and grandeur. Projecting over 66 buildings in cities such as New York City, Chicago, Toronto, Paris, and Berlin, Kanye released a hailstorm of shots at his oppressors. In his now iconic presentation of ‘New Slaves‘ from his sixth solo album and seventh studio album ‘Yeezus‘, Kanye expressed his anger over corporations who enslaves their consumers by marketing and branding. “Doing clothes you woulda thought I had help/But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself.”
Although Kanye continued to collaborate when his first A.P.C. Collection hit stores, he wasn’t finished exposing those who he felt kept him down. By September 2013, Kanye sat down with Zane Lowe of BBC Radio 1 with Zane Lowe to talk about why he felt he deserved to design a full collection in oppose to just collaborating with brands. He explains that traditional celebrity endorsements deals didn’t really mean shit. The title ‘creative director’ didn’t mean shit, and their input on the products usually amounts to nothing. It was the first time Kanye spoke about moving to Rome and interning for Fendi for four months. After enrolling as a entry-level intern which included fetching coffee and making photocopies, Kanye stated that he shared an idea of leather jogging pants that was rejected but later picked up by company’s creative team. Kanye also admitted that he felt he couldn’t impact fashion culture without the support and backup of large companies such as Nike and Adidas.
It wasn’t until after Kanye revealed that Nike refused to give him a release date for the Air Yeezy 2 Red Octobers, that he realized that he was cut from not only the company’s brain trust but was unappreciated as a creative part of the collection. Kanye got the joint venture deal that he was looking for from Adidas. With royalties included, the Adidas deal was worth more than the $4 million dollar deal he had with Nike. Two months later, without warning Nike finally released the Red Octobers, putting the final nail in the coffin between Kanye and the company.
If you get anything from reading this post it is that Kanye never gave up. He always wanted to branch out from the other streetwear lines and celebrity endorsed brands that are out today. There were so many collabs that Kanye was apart of that I couldn’t list them all in this one post. After signing to Adidas, Kanye went on to release his clothing line ‘Yeezy‘, the Yeezy 350 boost sneakers, and even appeared on the cover of Vogue with wife Kim Kardashian. From rocking Louie Vuitton clothes, dubbing the nickname ‘Louie Vuitton Don‘ and ‘Martin Louis the King Jr‘ in his earliest work, to producing his own high-end fashion line, Kanye has come a long way in his career.
If Pharrell opened the doors for rappers to work with high-end fashion designers, then Kanye was the one who knocked on every single door until he was let in. Whether you like Kanye or not, the story of his persistence and innovation will live on long after he transitions and that is the perfect definition of a ‘Fashion God‘.