It's fair to say the ride to YEEZY Season 8 hasn't been entirely smooth sailing. Ever since Kanye West presented his first fashion show at Paris Fashion Week in 2011, his relationship with the critics could be described as volatile, to say the least. Some collections have been labeled brilliant, others anything but. One thing everyone agrees on is that the YEEZY circus is never boring.
Unpredictability has become part of YEEZY's allure. Even the snootiest of naysayers can't take their eyes off it because they don't want to miss what might happen next. That West has some serious design chops is beyond doubt at this point, but the unfolding soap opera often relegates the actual clothing to a minor role.
Ahead of tonight's Season 8 show, we take a look back at the YEEZY story so far.
YEEZY Season 1
The YEEZY roadshow began five years ago at New York Fashion Week. Virgil Abloh, Jerry Lorenzo, and a then-unknown Georgian by the name of Demna Gvasalia were but a few of the names to work on West’s inaugural collection.
Created in tandem with adidas Originals, West enlisted contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft to oversee the presentation, which saw models and influencers — including a fledgling Luka Sabbat — don the clothing with the deadest of dead-eye stares. If the vibe felt dystopian, that was the whole point; West claimed in his show notes that the collection was part-informed by the 2011 London riots.
“I was living in London at that time and saw the way that the kids wanted the clothes and I didn’t have the skill set to do the more inexpensive clothes,” West told the now-defunct Style. “This designer said to me one time, we were looking at something online, 'This looks like a really bad couture designer that no one knows.' Think about the idea of a really terrible couture designer, which there are a lot of. I didn’t have the skill set to do inexpensive clothes.”
Season 1, mostly well-received by critics and the on-looking audience that included Jay-Z and Beyoncé, was an early signifier of the design codes — drapey silhouettes, muted color palettes, and military nods — that we’d come to associate with YEEZY. The most in-demand sneaker in the world at the time, the YEEZY Boost 750, and the then-unknown 350, would also be debuted in an official capacity.
YEEZY Season 2
When it was announced that adidas Originals would no longer be involved on the YEEZY apparel front, rumors abounded that a luxury Parisian fashion house would take over production and distribution. This did not transpire. Instead, West would face a lawsuit two years later when a sourcing agent claimed she was cut out of the deal for collections 2, 3, and 4, with final arrangements made between Turkish manufacturers and the YEEZY holding company.
Not everyone was happy when West revealed his last-minute decision to show at New York Fashion Week. Smaller designers bemoaned how the media hoopla would detract attention from their presentations, which were going on at the same time. Perhaps they had a point. *Deep breath* Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner (who was relegated to the second row), Drake, Jaden Smith, Lorde, Riccardo Tisci, 2 Chainz, Tyga, Courtney Love, Seth Meyers, André Leon Talley, and Anna Wintour were just some of the names to attend the sophomore New York Fashion Week show.
As real-life drill sergeants called out groups of four model sets, commanding them to march, the clothing — not a world different from Season 1, with John Elliott said to have played a big role in the design — felt almost inconsequential. This was a demonstration of West's power when it comes to commanding headlines.
YEEZY Season 3
If Season 2 was glamorous, Season 3 was from another stratosphere altogether.
20,000 people crammed into Madison Square Garden while many millions more watched on from theaters and laptops around the world, as West unveiled his fashion show slash Life of Pablo gesamtkunstwerk.
West took to the sound booth with his laptop, flanked by the likes of Vic Mensa, Virgil Alboh, and Pusha T. Running through the album at ear-splitting volume, he then passed the aux cord to members of his squad, who took turns choosing tracks of their own. “We can have a party here and keep playing music till the curfew,” he remarked, although momentarily halted the music to show a teaser video for a mobile game, Only One, that depicted his late mother traveling through the gates of heaven. The game would never see the light of day.
During the Beecroft-directed show — which was heralded as West's strongest to date and included model turns from bubbling rappers like Lil Yachty and Young Thug — West thanked adidas for covering the venue fee. When members of the crowd started a chant of "Fuck Nike," the rapper egged them on, before stopping short when one over-zealous attendee brought Michael Jordan's name into it. "Not fuck Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan is our boy," West scolded. "I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Michael Jordan. Respect Jordan." This was an evening that would go down in fashion history.
YEEZY Season 4
How do you follow up an extravaganza like the Garden, exactly? West again aimed for the stars but instead incurred the wrath of just about every editor in New York with his hastily-planned, women's only YEEZY Season 4 show.
Where anticipation ahead of YEEZY shows had hitherto been tempered, people had high hopes this time around, with the sense that West was beginning to win over his fashion detractors who previously claimed he should stick to music. That relationship was about to be strained once more. Guests, including Pharrell and Spike Jonze, received invites at 4:30 a.m. and made their way to Roosevelt Island in New York City's East River. The show took place in Four Freedoms Park, a triangular grassy mall that sits atop a marble staircase. Highsnobiety editorial director Jian DeLeon, who was in attendance that day, described the madness:
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.
Model Amina Blue gave up about two-thirds into the runway and took off her stiletto heels. 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.
The sun might have been hot that day, but the press fall-out was blistering. West attracted criticism not just for the show's poor execution, but the controversial casting call which asked for “NO MAKEUP” and “MULTIRACIAL WOMEN ONLY.” Four years on, and Season 4 still ranks as one of the most infamous fashion shows since the turn of the Millenium. Despite that, a YEEZY representative claimed that, at the time, the collection was the most successful to date in terms of wholesale orders.
YEEZY Season 5
If Season 4 was a hot mess, Season 5 got things back on track. There were no fainting models or aux cable issues. Rather, this was a nimbly executed, focussed showcase. Hell, not only did West show up on time, but he sportingly changed slots when his show overlapped with a fellow designer’s.
A remixed song by The-Dream played as models were beamed onto a three-story, four-sided LED screen before appearing in person (perhaps a reaction to the fact people in attendance at the MSG show complained that they couldn't actually make out what was happening from the bleachers). The clothing was strong, moving away from the blanched "YEEZY soldier" palette in favor of denim (for the first time) and an altogether sportier aesthetic that introduced "Calabasas" and "Lost Hills" (at the time, this was rumored to be the name of West's collaborative album with Drake) branding. As well as GORE-TEX pieces, West also debuted the YEEZY Runner, his contribution to the then-burgeoning chunky sneaker market.
For streetwear kids who craved logos, this was the collection they had dreamed of. Fashion editors, meanwhile, were just happy they weren't being struck down with sunburn.
YEEZY Season 6
Season 6 represented a departure for West. There was no accompanying live showcase for the first time — a New York Fashion Week date was canceled and rumors of a Paris showing failed to materialize. Instead, it all went down on social media.
Heralded in some quarters as West’s smartest work to date, the accompanying campaign lookbook replicated paparazzi shots of Kim Kardashian while out and about in Calabasas. Things got even more meta when a roll-call of Hollywood celebs including Paris Hilton, Amina Blue, Sarah Snyder, and adult actress Lela Star — not to mention a host of less familiar faces — then copied Kardashian’s look, before plastering the results over Instagram (which, according to The Fashion Law expert Julie Zerbo, was most probably illegal). Screenshots of the posts — of which there were literally hundreds — then appeared in cities across Europe and North America.
“The experiment is sure to spike online sales,” wrote Vogue at the time. “The sheer reach and like count of #yeezyseason6 testifies to West’s skill at wrangling that other commodity: our collective attention.” Marketing 101, Kanye West style.
YEEZY Season 7
Season 7 was unusual in that it was something of a non-event. Once again, West utilized wife Kardashian as his secret weapon, this time on the streets of Tokyo. Possibly having had their fingers burnt by the murky legalese that surrounded Season 6, there was no follow-up by their celebrity friends. Still, if the public reaction was muted, then at least the clothing fizzed, arriving in neon-colors antithetical to the dour palette traditionally associated with the brand.
Yet nothing ever runs entirely smoothly in the world of YEEZY. In a now-removed-tweet, serial leaker account YEEZY Mafia claimed that brand buyers and stockists were invited to a showroom for the collection's reveal, but were actually met with an empty room, allegedly owed to the fact West felt he couldn’t execute his ideas and decided to drop the designs from the upcoming release, focusing instead on footwear. Almost straight away, Kardashian-West clapped back, tweeting that the account couldn't be trusted, and bemoaning its blue verified tick.
YEEZY Season 8
YEEZY showed its eighth collection during an off-schedule runway show at Paris Fashion Week.
Following cues from an invitation that included “rattlesnake eggs,” West took editors to the futuristic Espace Niemeyer — home of the French Communist Party — designed by famed architect Oscar Niemeyer.
The collection was sparse, with a total of 18 looks and no menswear. It was a familiar vibe of post-apocalyptic athleisure, cropped jackets, puffas, bras, and windbreakers — all in the muted green, yellow, and beige colorways of YEEZY’s previous seasons — with puffa boots and slides on foot.
For the first time, there was also a graphic tee. Its artwork depicted an angel bestowing a blessing, clearly connected to West’s emphasis on religion; as he told Highsnobiety backstage, “now that I’m married, now that I have two daughters, now that I’m saved, I think about the way I use the clothes and the way I present the models, [and] it’s a whole different mentality to have.” Speaking of daughters — West’s first-born North (dressed in head-to-toe YEEZY) closed the show, singing a rendition of five-year-old singer ZaZa’s hit “What I Do” as the models walked around the building.
Check out our in-depth review of YEEZY's return to Paris right here.