I’ve always been a Kanye West fan. From his Def Poetry Jam days to his most recent album, The Life of Pablo. He’s the guy who made me covet Louis Vuitton backpacks and LRG’s skull-printed “Dead Serious” hoodie ten years ago and a Haider Ackermann embellished bomber jacket today. There’s a thing among staunch West fans that make you want to defend him to detractors, because you really just want them to see him in the way we do. In many ways, being a Kanye West fan means being a champion of the chronically misunderstood.
Kanye West and adidas’ partnership sent shockwaves in the street culture community when it was first announced. When YEEZY Season 1 made its debut just a year ago, the palpable excitement made the long wait times outside Clarkson Square almost bearable. An excruciatingly windy day, attendees huddled up for warmth while waiting to be let in the venue. The Yeezy 750 Boost had made its way to the feet of a few lucky members of #teamearly, and the show debuted its low-top counterpart, the 350 Boost—the sneaker undoubtedly stole the show, with a close second going to the debut of the unreleased “Wolves” track, or possibly a baby North West’s mid-show cry in the lap of Kim Kardashian as fashion legend Anna Wintour looked on disapprovingly.
The show’s offerings of high-top 950 Duck Boots, distressed officer’s sweaters, oversized knits, and elevated workwear drew references from thrift store and surplus finds, filtered through the lens of design consultants like John Elliott, Robert Geller, and Demna Gvasalia. The prices made it out of reach for most people’s budgets, and many pieces found themselves on deep discounts later in the year.
The following show, YEEZY Season 2, built upon the previous collection’s military dystopian feel, adding oversized bomber jackets and brighter hues into the mix. It again enlisted performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, this time taking the military theme more literal, as models marched to the front as a designated drill sergeant called them forward. While the collection itself was cancelled, it managed to be influential enough that Zara released an entire capsule line mimicking its aesthetic.
YEEZY Season 3 debuted just a few months ago, and it seemed that West had finally found his stride. In a grand gesture, he held the show at Madison Square Garden, and enlisted some 1,500 models in an arrangement that mirrored a Rwandan refugee camp—an intentional move by artist Vanessa Beecroft—and the presentation doubled as a listening party for his new album, The Life of Pablo. It felt more like a concert than a fashion show, and also saw the debut of his now-ubiquitous line of merchandise made in conjunction with Bravado, the merch arm of Universal Music Group.
Prices for YEEZY Season 3 were more reasonable than Season 1—expensive, but not prohibitively so. And for the fans not willing to pony up on the luxury line, the merch served as a more affordable diffusion. While the collection has yet to ship, it showed a lot of promise in its range of product and easier-to-swallow price point. That’s precisely why hopes were so high for YEEZY Season 4.
Invites to the show were sent out at 4:30 am the morning of the show, instructing attendees that shuttle buses would transport them to an undisclosed location. It was later revealed to be Roosevelt Island, a relatively obscure location used mostly for hospitals until 1971. There are three ways to access the island, either by the Roosevelt Island Bridge, the F train, or the most novel approach—a five-minute cable car that commutes between E 69th Street and 2nd Avenue. It pops up in the 2002 Spider-Man film during one of the movie’s climactic battles. It’s probably the easiest way to travel there, but most invitees opted for the bus, which took the better part of an hour to arrive to the venue.
After two further checkpoints, guests were admitted into Roosevelt Island’s Four Freedoms Park, a triangular grassy mall that sits atop a marble staircase. First however, there was the merch booth.
Unlike last season’s Pablo merch, this humbler iteration only sold two long sleeve tees in white and day-glo yellow. It riffed on the previous three seasons’ penchant for giving out invites that doubled as wearable tchotchkes. Season 1 had a Tyvek anorak, Season 2 had a camo long sleeve tee, and for Season 3, a nylon coaches jacket. Season 4’s “invite” cost $75 to own. And yet, people lined up and bought them eagerly. The merch made sense in the context of a Madison Square Garden extravaganza, but here, it felt more like a blatant cash grab.
Ascending the staircase revealed the first part of the show, another Beecroft phalanx of female models in bodysuits, no doubt feeling the brunt of the 85-degree day, where a clear sky made sunlight especially harsh. Some models fainted from heat exhaustion, but soldiered on. At one point, an attendee helped out a model with a bottle of water.
What the TIDAL stream didn’t show is that this continued on for about an hour before the show began proper. The ambient, synth-infused music that had been booming in the background got louder, and models began to traverse the triangular runway. Notable names included Sofia Richie, Chanel Iman, and Teyana Taylor, the recent star of West’s music video for “Fade.”
The clothes didn’t veer much from West’s previous design narrative, staying in the line of skintight bodysuits and oversized militaria. As a nod to the newly-minted, more intimate partnership between Kanye West and adidas, several looks featured adidas accessories like fanny packs, but the footwear was mainly focused on thigh-high boots and other stiletto-heeled shoes that were almost impossible for some of the models to walk in.
Indeed, model Amina Blue gave up about two-thirds into the runway and took off her pair. Another model had been struggling the entire time, and at the end almost stopped her walk, creating a traffic jam. It appeared one of her heels had broken, and she was trying her best not to fall. Luckily, Bergdorf Goodman men’s fashion director Bruce Pask got out of his seat and helped her to the end of the runway. Some of the more memorable pieces included a series of camo looks that ranged from traditional woodland to a more artistic, exploded rendition of disruptive pattern material that looked great as a cagoule or on a pair of cargo shorts.
Perhaps the greatest fault in this befuddled spectacle of a show is that West’s aspirations in clothing often veer far from how his highly-engaged (and predominantly male) fanbase want to dress. It explains why the layman is more obsessed with his graphic-oriented merch and statement-making sneakers. They possess the personality they wish they had. This is a man who no doubt helped propel the bomber jacket and ripped jeans to the top of the Google Fashion Trends zeitgeist, after all. And therein lies the rub—people want to wear what Kanye West wears more than they want to wear what he designs.
The oversized hoodies, nylon bombers, and menswear that dominated Season 3 were nowhere to be seen at Season 4, opting for a womenswear-only show that has historically never been his strong suit. While there were plenty of pieces guys could probably see themselves wearing, in this context Season 4 seems like a huge step back. Everyone is rooting for West to succeed in whatever he wants to pursue, but for a guy who prefers the term “apparel” to “fashion” to describe his work, this particular collection seems more overwrought than it should be.
People want to wear what Kanye West wears more than they want to wear what he designs
Overall, the clothes could have benefitted from much less of a grand spectacle than what happened today. If the MSG show was his equivalent of My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy, then Season 4 should have been his Yeezus, a pared-down, rawer presentation that allowed for the clothes to speak on their own merits and be seen up close and personal, instead of the Jumbotron close-ups most of us got for Season 3.
Perhaps the worst part is that by the time the show ended, all in attendance had essentially given West six hours of their time, and were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Even the most staunch Kanye West apologist would have a hard time explaining that this was all worth the trouble. If Season 3 had re-instilled my faith in Yeezus, Season 4’s shortcomings may have started me on the path to ‘Yetheism.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
- Photography: Thomas Welch / Highsnobiety.com