Who checks their email on a Sunday anyway? And yet, six days after Kanye tweeted about YEEZY Season 3, that’s when the initial invites for the megastar’s colossal fashion show-cum-album listening party went out. I only found out via my editor, who then blessed me with the assignment to cover the show on February 11, and was told that details would be forthcoming.
Just securing invites to the show was a process of subterfuge. There was a Midtown hotel involved, and a finite time window where you had to check in with someone at the lobby, then make your way upstairs, where an escrow coordinated with the YEEZY illuminati to confirm the number of invites your team was supposed to have. For some people, this took a matter of minutes, for the less fortunate—hours. YEEZY Season 3 purgatory was in a pretty nice location, though. We were among the lucky ones, and received our Madison Square Garden tickets and Season 3 coaches jackets in under half an hour.
Yes, like the previous two collections, there was a wearable piece of YEEZY Season ephemera that accompanied most invites. For those keeping score at home, Season 1 was a half-zip Tyvek anorak, and Season 2 was a long-sleeve camouflage T-shirt from Rothco. This time, it was a lined deep green snap-button coaches jacket. This particular one was made by Augusta Sportswear and will only set you back roughly $18 for one sans all the Yeezy Season 3 branding. I didn’t see any of these at the show, but wouldn’t doubt if people had worn them there.
The day of the show, we arrived at Madison Square Garden a little around 3 p.m. Checking in was a relatively easy process, but there was a holding pattern in the mezzanine. A long line that snaked well into the mezzanine from one of the entrances turned out not to be for the show, but for one of many Willo Perron-designed merch tables—silver cubes made of a cross-hatched metal you’d often see on New York City streets.
The merch included plenty of gear emblazoned with “I Feel Like Pablo” in a signature typeface associated with artist Cali Thornhill Dewitt, indicating that these pieces were a collaboration. The backs of sweatshirts, tees, and hoodies were splashed with lyrics from West’s new album, The Life of Pablo, which none of us had heard yet. One said “We on an Ultra Light Beam/This Is a God Dream” from the album’s first track, “Ultra Light Beam.” Other merch said “Any Rumor You Ever Heard About Me/Was True and Legendary” on the back, lifted from a G.O.O.D. Friday track that didn’t make the album, and the origin of “I Feel Like Pablo”—West’s collaborative song with Kendrick Lamar, “No More Parties in L.A.”
Celebrity and nerd-celebrity sightings occurred while waiting for doors to open. Storm Copenhagen owner Rasmus Storm chopped it up with a few industry heads. Demna Gvasalia, the designer of Vetements and newly-minted Balenciaga creative director, wore an oversized bomber and deconstructed hoodie of his own design, while picking up tickets from the will-call window like everyone else. Actor and jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia, after being barred from air travel in Mexico for refusing to take off his turban during a security check, was home in time to make the show.
Soon enough, the doors opened, and people began filing towards their respective sections and seats. Of course, the first place many headed was straight to a queue for the other merch booths. Meanwhile, the numerous food stands and bars were open for business, so I did what any sensible person would do, and polished off a few beers while waiting for the show to start. Two Stellas later, I finally made my way into the Garden proper, and first glimpsed the massive stage covered in a brown cloth. People were fanning it to create a wave effect, which at the time I assumed was just for show.
Then the Jumbotron came on, showing North West clad in a white hoodie, signaling the entrance of the royal family. The Kardashian clan strutted out, followed by Kanye West, clad in a maroon long-sleeve tee that was selling for $60 at the merch table, and a black dad cap with “Yeezus” on it. In his entourage was Travis $cott, Pusha T, Kid Cudi (wearing a raccoon hat), and Lamar Odom, clad in a Yeezy Season 1 camo trench coat, making his first public appearance with Khloe Kardashian since a serious health scare left him hospitalized.
Laptop in tow, West and his squad perched behind the sound booth, and plugged in the aux cord to end all other aux cords, then took the mic and announced he would be playing his album. He introduced the first track, “Ultra Light Beam,” and shortly after the music started, the cloth over the stage was peeled back, revealing the entirety of YEEZY Season 3 onstage, and some 1,200 similarly-clothed extras surrounding it. The installation was the work of performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, who has worked with West for the past two seasons. Whereas Season 1 and Season 2’s imagery drew upon Roman phalanxes and played on the notion of military formations, her statement here skewed more towards a refugee camp.
West would go onto play the entirety of the album, while the Jumbotron stayed primarily focused on the models onstage. Sure, there was plenty of dancing, blown smoke, and all-around good vibes permeating from the sound booth, but to speak of the clothes specifically, the collection is everything you would expect from the YEEZY line, but a little bit different. There’s oversized outerwear aplenty, from puffy down jackets to shearling coats to full-length furs on A-list models like Naomi Campbell and Veronica Webb.
On the male models, which included Young Thug, red-haired rapper Lil Yachty, and a non-smoking Ian Connor, Dries Van Noten-esque paneled track pants are styled with oversized salmon-colored sweatshirts. Near-banana-yellow fleece jackets and hoodies and highlighter-orange half-zip anoraks add a welcome injection of brightness into a line known for its drab color stories. The pricey distressed sweaters from last season return in artichoke shades, and there’s even a touch of leaf-print camo to jackets and hoodies, while a more subdued olive camo is rendered on a mock-neck sweatshirt. All in all, it’s the same stuff we’ve seen before, but this time, with a few new colors. If you weren’t a fan before, you won’t be converted this time around. And if you were expecting a radical departure from previous collections, then you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Notably, the models are all minorities. Despite the admittedly ludicrous instructions that were leaked, it’s still a watershed moment for a fashion industry severely lacking in diversity. If Beyoncé’s “Formation” video was an affirmation of black power, West’s YEEZY Season 3 and Beecroft’s refugee camp staging serves up some social commentary and identity politics of its own. It’s a shame that message is mostly overshadowed by people going crazy over the album and finally hearing “Wolves” in CD-quality sound.
When the album finished, West embarked upon one of his trademark diatribes, revealing his insecurities by asking what people thought of the album—then the clothes, making it excruciatingly clear where his priorities lie. There were plenty of gems, like West saying “I love you like Kanye likes Kanye,” but he also showed his appreciation for Carine Roitfeld, the former Vogue Paris editor who now helms CR Fashion Book, whom he thanked for being a “real bitch.” Two years ago, Roitfeld put Kim Kardashian on the magazine’s cover, which West regarded as her first fashion cover. He also showed his gratitude for his team, Vanessa Beecroft, and adidas – “for paying for this.”
Meanwhile, adidas got some immediate return on their investment. Not only did the show see the debut of a redesigned Boost 350, but also the 1050, a more weatherproof version of the 950 duck boot with a retooled sole. Oh right—and then West got the stadium to loudly chant “Fuck Nike!” before dropping a new version of his Nike diss song “Facts.” Ironically, he remained a staunch defender of Michael Jordan, telling the crowd: “No, no not ‘fuck Michael Jordan,’ Michael Jordan is our boy!”
Around this time, people had slowly started to file out of the stadium. Some noticed a lull in the merch line, and spent the rest of the show waiting to buy gear. But you could still hear what was happening onstage and see the images on the Jumbotron—at this point, the show had superseded the collection.
While speaking to the crowd, West confessed one of his dreams was to be the creative director at Hermés, and talked about the time he went to San Francisco to attempt to get a video game made before showing the trailer on the Jumbotron. Called “Only One,” the game consists of guiding West’s late mother, Donda West, to Heaven—sometimes with the help of a winged Pegasus. Set to a reworked, pared-down version of the song from which the game takes its name, the minimal art style, bright backgrounds, and mottled clouds had West’s fingerprints on them. That was the last big reveal before thanking everyone for coming out, and segueing into a short DJ set by Virgil Abloh as the remainder of the audience, unsure if it was truly over or not, looked at each other, Kanye-shrugged, and slowly began to shuffle out.