I'm a huge Kanye West fan. I've seen him more than six times in concert, my high school senior yearbook quote was from his Graduation album, I interned with his stylist after I graduated from college, I justify most of his rants, and I thought it was brilliant when he wore a kilt. But the one thing I haven't been able to understand is his persistence in wanting to be a fashion designer, even though I respect his ability to be vulnerable and continue to fail in front of his peers and critics until he gets it right (hopefully soon?).
Back in February, West opened the Yeezy Season 1 presentation with a voiceover in which he seemed to be answering my question: "Why is he still trying?"
“I want to create something better for you. We have been limited. There’s a lack of creativity in every field because people are afraid.”
There are two ways to improve lack of creativity: Create a new way of thinking by innovating, or create something better than what already exists. In fashion, Kanye has done neither.
This week, Mr. West presented the second collection of his clothing line Yeezy—with the help of Italian performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, and this time sans an Adidas partnership—and my feelings remain the same.
Kanye's second collection—Yeezy Season 2—was essentially a minimally refined repeat of the post-apocalyptic military-inspired clothing he presented eight months ago. He swapped out nylon tights for spandex leggings, got rid of the horrid tattered sweaters and added Champion-esque sweatshirts, narrowed the color scheme to blacks and nudes and broadened the hues, and opted for making more literal military references in the performance (there were drill sergeants) and fewer in the clothing (no camouflage). The garments were beyond underwhelming. They certainly didn't live up the hype of the show, which came with a load of distractions— North West being perfect; glamorous attendees like Anna Wintour, Jaden Smith, Riccardo Tisci, 2 Chainz, Drake, and the Kardashian-Jenners; and a fantastic new Kanye song—leaving little opportunity to actually focus on the design:
Aesthetically, the way the collection was displayed was quite magical. The live-stream had a stark silence, and the lifeless, zombie-like presentation of clothing by skin color—from lightest to darkest— made an (intentional?) statement about skin color meaning both everything and nothing. Quoting Kanye on Kanye, "he's a visionary," which means he's mastered the artistry of transporting you to another place and invoking a certain emotion. (Last season, his collection was inspired by the 2011 London riots after the police shooting of Mark Duggan.)
From casting of internet cool-kids like Luke Sabbat and Ian Conner to always making sure there is a way for true fans to view his collection through live streaming, Kanye has definitely been listening to the kids. Because although he's having a hell of a time trying to prove himself as a serious fashion designer, these are the ones who will be standing in line to his support his clothes, even if some people are complaining about the price points.
Kanye has also been listening to himself. When the 38-year-old rapper presented first two fashion collections in Paris, it was clear that they were his interpretation of what he thought fashion people wanted to see on the runway, but had resulted in really poorly-tailored clothing.
Now, he's creating based on how he feels about clothing. But he hasn't been able to translate what he likes about fashion (Haider Ackermann, Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Alexander Wang, exaggerated long sleeves, monochromatic worldly colors) to his own original concrete ideas. He's a classic case of having good taste that isn't able to be executed because of lack of skill.
But his continued failure as a clothing designer has helped to me to realize one of his strengths: Shoe design. From his collaboration with Louis Vuitton to his Nike Air Yeezys to most recently his Adidas Yeezy Boosts sneakers and boots, designing sneakers is a place where he's filling the creativity void both through his innovative ideas and his ability to make things better.
He co-designed the beaded heels for his Dw by Kanye West Spring 2012 collection with Giuseppe Zanotti (which weren't exactly getting him a CFDA, but they were different and better than any of the clothing he showed on the runway) and designed heels for designer Dion Lee's fall 2012 and resort 2013 collections. Even the pointed-toe sock-boots, the lucite heels, and all of the Yeezy Boosts he presented for Yeezy Season 2 had more integrity than any of the lackluster clothing the models were wearing. More Kanye shoes, less Kanye clothes, please! Ye, fashion people respect shoe designers too.
Here's what it boils down to: Kanye hasn't been listening to his critics. Usually I would applaud that, and say fuck them all—especially in regards to his music, when instead he is quick to dismiss and take offense to negative critiques. But: When you're trying to make a name for yourself in a space where you don't have innate or skilled talent, isn't guidance key?
It's not all Kanye's fault, though. A major problem hindering his growth as a designer is the overflow of praise and lack of honest critique from fashion critics (except a select few). But the Kanye West stan in me can't not root for him. Yesterday a friend suggested Kanye should become the creative director for the Gap. Creating affordable basics for that masses? That's something I can stand behind. And if not that, then… Yeezy Season 3?
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.