Anyone who has been paying attention to their fashion Google alerts over the past week knows that Kanye West is receiving a huge amount of backlash over his Kanye West X Adidas Originals Collection (Yeezy Season 2), which he premiered on Sept. 16 during New York Fashion Week. For the show, he collaborated with performance artist Vanessa Beecroft and premiered his new song "Fade." The front and second rows contained familiar faces like Anna Wintour, Kim Kardashian (with North in tow), Lorde, Jaden Smith, and many more. Hundreds of people crowded into the venue, anxiously awaiting the unveiling of Yeezy's latest line. However, based on subsequent reactions to his show, it seems that despite his hard work and support from certain cultural influencers, West has managed to preserve his outsider status in the sartorial world.
Having only announced that he would be presenting his collaboration with Adidas at the very last minute, West pissed off a number of fashion designers. According to Women's Wear Daily, some of these people were Anne Bowen and Naeem Khan, who both had to scramble to reschedule their own shows so they wouldn't conflict with West's. Their frustration is definitely understandable, as his of-the-moment impulsivity caused many people to lose lots of time and money, according to the disgruntled brands.
Beyond that, there has been a storm of hate raining down on West since the premiere of the collection, from fashion reporters, multiple publications, and even Ice-T. As a lover of fashion, a fan of Kanye West, and a person who is aware that racist tendencies still exist in all areas of society, these reactions really frustrated me.
The critique West has been experiencing has been varied, but is generally negative. It has encompassed everything from devaluing West as a visual artist to attacking him for being incompetent and cocky to comparing his clothes to slave gear. However, Ye is clearly passionate about and aware of issues surrounding race, and he's proven himself to be a competent artist in many areas — fashion included. Still, the doors to earning any respect for that hard work seem to remain closed for West. Here are just seven reasons the backlash has been pretty unjustified.
1. Bowen's Comment Implies West Hasn't Put Any Work Into His Own Line
Although Anne Bowen had a right to be upset about West's last minute decision to book his show on the same day and time as hers, her comment just doesn't sit quite right with me. She told WWD:
“We have been prepping for a year for this at considerable financial, labor — and commitment — cost to our company. Our show date has been scheduled for months and has been on the Fashion Calendar for weeks. We went through all the proper channels to make this a reality. And just yesterday we learned that Kanye West is having a show at the same time on the same date as ours.”
The language used, like, "We went through all the proper channels," and, "We have been prepping for a year for this," implies that West's success in fashion is unearned and hasn't involved any of his own blood, sweat, and tears. He may have had bad timing, and come off as inconsiderate to others because of it, but that doesn't mean he deserves to be there any less than anyone else. I'd go as far as to say that his rude interruption of the white and capitalist dominated week was an extension of the point he was making with his collection: shaking up the game of fashion as we know it.
2. He's Being Boxed In Based On Stereotypes
West has dealt with a pushback from the fashion community since the beginning of his interest in creating clothes. He expressed some of this sentiment in his song "I Am A God" off the Yeezus album, referring to his negative experience at Paris Fashion Week, and specifically to a hostile conversation he had with Hedi Slimane, the creative director of Yves Saint Laurent Paris.
Much of the conversation surrounding his initial exile from the fashion community had to do with the fact that he was a rapper (not a clothing designer — despite his talent). His confidence also arguably made him appear cocky. The notion that he can't possibly design clothes as a performer, however (even though celebrities collaborate with designers all the time), is clearly an issue of stereotyping and of boxing people in.
3. Linking His Collection To Slavery Feels Incredibly Inappropriate
The day after West's show, rapper and actor Ice-T took to Twitter to say that he thought the Yeezy Season 2 Collection reminded him of "slave gear." According to The Daily Mail, this comment is possibly related to the fact that West had arranged his models by skin tone for the show.
West is very aware of race relations in the States, however, and as a POC in the media, it doesn't feel problematic for him to use his platform to bring attention to sociopolitical issues. If anything, Yeezy Season 2 feels like a commentary on race in America. While he hasn't spelled out for the media exactly what his intentions were, that doesn't negate the power of the clothes' message. Art is meant to be interpreted, after all.
While this is just my experience, I saw his show as a commentary on bodies being almost disposable in capitalism and the sartorial world. I felt like he was trying to convey that racism is transforming our society into a more animalistic, almost apocalyptic group of inhabitants. Or perhaps it was his vision of a post-racist society. Regardless, the possible interpretations are endless.
4. The Clothes Are Supposed To Look Similar To Yeezy Season 1
Yes, Yeezy's first and second collections (or "seasons") are similar. The second, however, as indicated by the name, is seemingly meant to be an extension of the first. The similarities, thus, appear intentional, rather than a mistake which could be a point of critique. Personally, I noticed the second season of Yeezy having way more nudes and exuding a ton more Mad Max vibes than the first, which felt strictly militaristic.
5. Laughing At His Work Instead Of Analyzing It Is Not OK
West has certainly earned some level of respect for all of his art and talent, but publications like New York Magazine continue to dole out problematic comments about him nonetheless. In "Kanye West Is Fooling The Fashion World," writer Cathy Horyn called Yeezy Season 2 "kind of amusing." She even expressed embarrassment over having had to attend the show, finishing her review with:
"This second round of drab, broken-down basics proved he can’t be taken seriously as a designer, but nevertheless many people in fashion do seem to take West seriously — they keep showing up expectantly for his performances — and that makes them fools. Because they wouldn’t bother with this stuff if it were offered by an unknown, and if it’s the spectacle they seek, it changes as little as the clothes."
Dripping with condescension and sartorial superiority, the review felt incredibly disrespectful to an artist who has earned his right to respect. Just because he isn't humble (which seems expected of any kind of marginalized identity in our culture), does not mean he should be written off and robbed of unbiased analysis of his work.
6. The Clothes Are Actually Cute
The majority of West's line does look like basics, and was criticized by New York Magazine for looking like Spandex. However, that's what makes them cute. I love the simplistic look of each piece. The basic elements of the line make the clothing more versatile and totally wearable. While I can't imagine myself sporting most of the clothes I see on runways IRL, I can definitely imagine wearing Yeezy Season 2 to class and beyond.
The muted colors and athletic-wear feel match my current health goth aesthetic, and the look so ideal for layering. Most importantly, it looks like some serious badass post-apocalyptic Mad Max: Fury Road stuff, which ups the collection's "cool" game considerably for me.
7. People Just Don't Like Kanye West
At the end of the day, in my opinion at least, Kanye West is one of the most misunderstood celebs of our day. He's hated for his disruption of the Hurricane Katrina telethon in 2004 (speaking right into the camera about how "George Bush doesn't care about black people") as well as his interruption of Taylor Swift accepting a VMA in 2009 (when he was upset over award shows' refusal to recognize women of color nearly as much they recognize white artists).
Kanye West, however, continues to fight the good fight of making art, being heard, and not apologizing for any of it. His collaboration with Adidas might not be for everyone, but his integrity as an artist should not be compromised by people's opinions of him as a person.