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Yeezy

Given the heavy rotation of Yeezy’s ubiquitous earthy neutrals in the past, bastardized by every bedroom-based streetwear label, big brand behemoth, and fast fashion titan out there, it’s fair to say that Kanye’s love affair with fifty shades of beige gave the color its trending status. So, what can we expect now that Yeezy Season 5 just introduced a more diversified palette?

For the eagle-eyed among you, you probably clocked that burgundy was writ large across the collection. The color was unapologetically styled head-to-toe, in everything from billowing XXL hoodies to adidas-branded Calabasas merch to granddad cardigans to thigh-high booties.

Now that Yeezy Season 5 has marinated for a moment, let’s take Kanye’s new color du jour to task, unpack its past and gauge whether burgundy could be the trending color of the season.

Yeezy

The fashion lexicon calls it burgundy, maroon, bordeaux, cordovan and oxblood, though each shade differs ever so slightly. In 2015, burgundy was named Pantone’s color of the year and the definitive arbiters of tones and tints decided it needed yet another synonym, so they dubbed it ‘Marsala’. It’s actually quite hard to pinpoint the color’s origin story. I’m sure its history is winding, and there’s a lost story rife with scandal about its rise through the ranks of 15th-century French aristocracy hidden in a history book somewhere.

However, in a contemporary context, burgundy feels a lot less inspiring. Personally, it just reminds me of lifeless hotel carpets, Catholic school girl uniforms, and the Pope’s slippers. Last year, the color made headlines for even more unlikely reasons. Did you know that for some disgruntled Brexit supports, being made to forcibly tote a burgundy-colored passport issued by the European Union was all too much, and they used it as a reason to vote leave?

Yeezy

We should also remind you that burgundy is nothing new in contemporary fashion and Kanye didn’t just go ahead and invent a new pigment. Burgundy regularly enjoys a ride on the Ferris wheel of trend culture, and it last loomed large on the runways just a few seasons ago. Back in FW16, houses like ValentinoLanvin and Hermès nudged burgundy into the spotlight, reworking the rich color into a range of formal silhouettes.

Gianni Pucci

However, for FW17, it seems as though burgundy took a backseat. Aside from Kanye, very few designers opted to revive the hue, but it did make a subtle appearance in Raf Simons’ inaugural collection for Calvin Klein FW17. Yeezy Season 5, though, went all out.

The color appeared in six entire looks, and though every burgundy piece in Season 5 channeled simplicity, pragmatism, and day-to-day wearability, it was the totality of Yeezy’s head-to-toe styling that laced the color with a degree of statement impact.

Yeezy

At the bleachers of Yeezy Season 5, Kim Kardashian also opted for a full-on burgundy ensemble, supercharging the notion that Kanye has big plans for the color. It’s not the first time Kanye has gotten a little obsessive with the color. At the Grammys in 2015, Kanye wore a velour burgundy hoodie by Haider Ackermann and he continued to wear it another five times over the next week. Everyone’s got a hoodie they like to live in, right? After exhausting the hoodie, Kanye moved on to a burgundy velour bomber jacket from Haider Ackermann’s FW15 collection and he made several appearances in it, including at Louis Vuitton’s FW15 womenswear show during Paris Fashion Week.

Lanvin / Kim Weston Arnold

Kanye’s past sartorial maneuvers provide some rich context as to why Yeezy Season 5 is big on burgundy, but we are left wondering if there is a deeper artistic reference at play? Burgundy is a sharp pivot from the Sahara desert aesthetic of previous collections but those color choices held context, and could be traced back to West’s diverse repertoire of intellectual inspo.

In fact, Yeezy’s neutral color palette was directly inspired by his own $4.5 million Claudio Silvestrin–designed Soho apartment. The modern, tonal home is full of neutral hues, French limestone, and pearwood, and bears a lot of aesthetic resemblance to Yeezy’s past collections. So, what’s Kanye’s deal with burgundy?

Well, here’s a hunch. In 2010, Kanye West took to Twitter to exercise some articulations about art, and more specifically, Mark Rothko. In a since-deleted tweet, West professed his enthusiasm for the work of the late abstract expressionist painter, tweeting: ““Like yo this Mark Rothko is the shit! You see it works. This is a break through people. I now know how to communicate art! YES!!!!”

Kanye West

Throughout his career, Rothko repeatedly toyed with shades of burgundy in his works but there is one painting, in particular, Black on Maroon, that we could definitely imagine on the Yeezy Season 5 mood board. Let’s make some comparisons. Rothko uses a shade of burgundy as his base color, much like Yeezy’s latest collection. As suggested by the title of Rothko’s painting, it is overlaid with a large black square, which in turn encloses a narrower maroon block, suggesting a sense of structural symbolism.

Mark Rothko

It’s not dissimilar from the formula of building an outfit with blocks of color, and Kanye too counters his use of burgundy with a touch of black by finishing the full burgundy Calabasas look in Yeezy Season 5 with a pair of black booties. Perhaps Rothko’s signature abstract arrangements of shapes, and washed-out palette really is a regular point of reference for the creative team behind YEEZY. The late artist was an emotionally-charged guy too, who once said: “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.” Though Kanye isn’t quite so somber, he is definitely just as dramatic.

In any case, given Kanye’s affinity for burgundy, both past and present, as well as the galvanizing trend power of recent YEEZY collections, it’s inevitable that burgundy will quickly gain traction to become de rigueur among the style set. There’s literally no doubt that Season 5 and its carousel of burgundy hits will go on to hatch a throng of rip-offs and sloppy imitations. Few figures have had the impact on such a varied cross-section of cultural industries as Kanye West, and despite a tumulus past year rife with personal issues, it’s more than likely that Kanye will continue to parlay his influence in fashion and beyond.

For further reading, check out what Highsnobiety’s editorial team thinks of Kanye’s latest collection.

Words by Kam Dhillon
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