Last night, Kanye West told the crowd at Madison Square Garden (and, technically, the world): "I really appreciate y'all coming to support this event, support the shoes when they come out, supporting the albums, supporting the frame of mind."
In the world of Kanye West, nothing makes sense, but we carry on, because we're happy to be invited inside his unpredictable mind. Entangled in this world is everyone from an overzealous fan, to a skeptical critic, to a justifiable hater—and all of those descriptions could apply to one person in the span of three hours. That’s because Kanye West is a walking, unfiltered, unapologetic contradiction who makes you feel things. (See his Twitter account, here.)
West rapped about people becoming the “new slaves” to big corporations and overly expensive clothing on "New Slaves," but a full look from his Yeezy clothing line is equivalent to more than a month’s rent, making it inaccessible to many. (Although, last night at the Yeezy Season 3 presentation, he promised that he’s working on lowering the prices.) West said "racism is a dated concept" in an interview with Clique, but alludes to the racist fashion industry being the reason he’s not taken seriously as a designer. Plus: The way he presents color in his collections, with an emphasis on skin tones, and employs unknown young black kids, in an industry that is historically known to both erase and steal from them, makes you think about race and society, even if he didn't intend for you to. And those are just two examples from the contradictory world of Yeezus.
Sometimes, you think Kanye West is so dedicated to fulfilling the role of self-proclaimed "creative genius" and "crazy n*gga from the interviews" that he's putting on a show or acting out with a purpose; and that's exactly what the fans and Yeezy Season 3 show-goers at Madison Square Garden said they love about him the most.
"I love how he says crazy shit and is just so convicted in it," said show attendee Robert Avery. Friends Charlotte, 25, and Chelsea, 21, who met during a fashion internship, felt the same way. "I love that he's black and he doesn't care what people think, and he'll just do what he think makes him feel better as a person. I think that's important as an artist—doing what makes you feel good," said Chelsea.
Inside the world of Kanye West's Yeezy Season 3 fashion show and Life of Pablo listening party, nothing really made sense either. Essentially, a bulk of the 20,000 audience members (that number is a West estimate) paid $100 to watch Kanye pass the aux cord and get hype with his friends.
It was fashion show, but the clothes were difficult to see—and took a backseat to the music. Still, you were happy to get a front row seat into West's mind, and despite the exclusivity of the fashion world West is trying to break into (I think he's already in), everyone's invited.
"It's really cool that he's letting us in his fashion show, like it's the only fashion show held in public in history, so I just think that's really cool," said 18-year-old Eric Kesser, another show attendee/fan.
Though West's show wasn't technically the first public fashion show in history, inclusivity and diversity are ongoing, age-old problems for the fashion world. And though his collections continue to be monotonous and contrived, Kanye West continues to challenge fashion norms. Season after season, West showcases his idea of non-mainstream beauty by hiring mostly unknown models of all different shades, body shapes and heights. He brings together fashion editors, the Kardashians, his rap friends and his fans, offering live-streams and in-theatre screenings.
At Yeezy Season 3, West went even bigger by opening his show up to the public at Madison Square Garden and allowing 20 million people (according to Tidal) to stream it online. The show was filled with models of color in more shades of brown than a your average make-up counter, wearing clothing that didn't deviate much from seasons one and two: Monochromatic tattered sweatpants, oversized jackets and sweatshirts, leggings and Yeezy Boosts. Young Thug and Naomi Campbell both modeled in the show, and so did two of my friends little sisters. And instead of waiting for reviews from fashion critics, West asked the crowd directly: "How ya'll feel about the clothes?" His question was met with cheers and screams from the crowd, although in a stadium full of people either wearing or coveting Yeezys, I'm not sure what else one would expect.
Despite his yearning for audience feedback—and his mini-rant about it being hard to "to get the talented people who worked on the collection to believe in my vision enough to come roll with a rapper"—West's Madison Square Garden extravaganza wasn't about the clothes at all.
For me, being at the show was an extension of how contradictory it is for me to be a Kanye West fan. Listening to new Kanye music after four years felt so emotional, but I didn’t forget about his misogyny on Twitter. I was thrilled at the idea of featuring a whole cast of beautiful black models during fashion week, but uncomfortable with the idea that people might think his clothing was worthy of praise. I was amazed at how welcoming and intimate he was able to make me feel in a crowd full of people.
In concert, West is known for using visuals as the background when he presents his music. And this time, as he premiered his album, The Life of Pablo, the Yeezy Seasons 3 collection was the backdrop. It was the background as he danced around, smiling from ear to ear listening to his own songs, with his friends Travis Scott, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Big Sean and Tyga. It was the background as the crowd chanted "Fuck Nike." It was the background as West called out former Vogue Paris editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld for being a "real bitch." It was the background to Naomi Campbell's surprise appearance. It was the background to West presenting his "Only One" video game, inspired by his mother. And it is a background that will, sadly, be forgotten—maybe because the crowd was so far away, or because the models were huddled together as if they were creating a setting, rather than individual stand-out moments. It's taken me three Yeezy seasons to realize that West might not even want us to remember the clothes in detail; his collections seem to be based on repetition and not craftsmanship or woo. Maybe, instead, he wants us to remember the experience of being inside his mind.
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.