From his first sneaker collaboration with Louis Vuitton to his failed DW by Kanye West line to a successful collaboration with A.P.C. to his now infamous Yeezy line, it’s hard to not imagine a time when Kanye wasn’t flexing in fashion.

Not to mention his highly-publicized internship doing the coffee runs at Fendi’s HQ in Rome. It’s fair to say he has enjoyed a wild ride in fashion. In honor of Mr. West’s 40th birthday, we take a look back at one of Kanye’s most divisive style moments and why it still matters today.

Remember that time when Kanye first wore a Givenchy leather kilt on the Watch the Throne tour in 2011? Well, Kanye himself credits the style move as one that solidified his own fashion awakening and his crossover into a perennial trendsetter in this essay for PAPER in 2015.

#Throwbackthursday You are now watching the Throne! ? @kanyewest X Jay-Z #kanye #yeezus #yeezy #jayz #hova #watchthethrone #watchthethronetour

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He’s not wrong. The look has gone on to inspire so many other rappers to take a more experimental approach with their style. Today, androgynous fashion is the norm, gender-neutral clothing has become de-facto for even the most mass-market of retailers and the likes of Jaden Smith are fronting Louis Vuitton womenswear campaigns in skirts.

The Heroines by Bruce Weber for #LVSERIES4 with @christiaingrey @NicolasGhesquiere #LouisVuitton #LVSS16

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It really was a moment that paved the way for more seismic changes in fashion and hip-hop too. Kanye’s sartorial move put Riccardo Tisci on the mainstream map and introduced Givenchy to new a legion of fans.

The fact that Kanye managed to court a historic French fashion house to design a tour wardrobe for a global hip-hop tour was essentially unheard of at the time too. Kanye went one step further and even had Tisci design the artwork for Watch the Throne. For his Yeezus tour in 2013, Kanye outdid himself with a custom Maison Margiela wardrobe, in which the cult fashion house produced “10 couture pieces and 20 ready-to-wear pieces” exclusively for him.

While Kanye’s kilt moment didn’t exactly inspire a runway trend, it certainly did help propel the rise of the once-ubiquitous street goth aesthetic. The trend saw brands from Rick Owens to En Noir enjoy a spike a massive popularity as a result. The baggy silhouette cut by Kanye’s kilt move can also be considered a loose guideline for more recent trends on rotation too, especially the long-length XXL T-shirts worn beneath sweaters and jackets that have become a visual signature for brands like John Elliot and directly echo Kanye’s kilt-y vibes.

Kanye’s bold choice to wear a leather kilt signaled the start of a more radical trajectory in menswear too, and one in which modern black masculinity was refashioned. It’s no coincidence that Kanye’s decision to wear a skirt prefaced the rise of Hood By Air for example – the sadly now-defunct brand founded by Shayne Oliver, a black queer man, who carved out the brand’s success with rigorously experimental streetwear wholly disconnected from hegemonic masculinity.

Even in 2011, Kanye’s open praise of Riccardo Tisci was met in the tabloids with baseless “gay rumors”. For a black male rapper, who society heralds as an icon of black masculinity, to offer up adulation to a queer designer and recognize the fact that their style choices have originated in the LGBT community was a defining moment, to say the least.

“When I saw this kilt, I liked it. I was into it. It looked fresh to me. I felt creative; I didn’t feel limited by some perception.” Kanye wrote in PAPER. “Who gets to decide what’s hard and what’s not hard?” It seems fair to point out that Kanye has always rallied against homophobia in rap & hip-hop, as far back as 2005.

In a behind-the-scenes video taken from the Watch The Throne tour, West can be seen grappling with his own insecurities. “It kind of just looks like a long T-shirt,” he says while scrutinizing his own appearancer. In the aforementioned 2015 Paper article, West honestly addresses his qualms about wearing a kilt on stage and re-fashioning machismo in hip-hop, especially when it came to performing in his Chicago hometown in front of die-hard rap fans, but rightly proclaims; “But there are warriors that have killed people in kilts in the past.”

Of course, Kanye decided to wear it, cultivating a new epoch of black masculinity, while giving the world a glimpse of his own powerful vision of androgynous modern menswear. Basically, Kanye “kilt” it.

For more Kanye news, did you know he wants to rebrand Calabasas High School’s sports uniform?

  • Cover Image: GQ
Words by Kam Dhillon
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