Kanye West’s ‘Yeezy Season 3’ Launch Proves Fashion and Hip-Hop Are Closer Analogues Than You Might Think


Kanye day came, and Kanye day went. The Madison Square Garden-sized event, billed as the presentation of his third collection with Adidas and the listening party for his new album, The Life of Pablo, was broadcast live on TIDAL, to what the service claims was some 20 million viewers. The show featured more than 50 models and 1,200 extras. Veronica Webb & Naomi Campbell both stalked the Vanessa Beecroft exhibit in floor-length black furs. Just as New York Fashion Week was beginning to ramp up, Madison Square Garden had become the epicenter of the collision between fashion and hip-hop cultures.

This isn’t as incongruous as it might seem to the casual observer, because hip-hop has always been embedded in fashion culture. And as creators, fashion designers and photographers have a lot in common with hip-hop artists and producers. Tribes are the dominant form of creative collaboration, old works are constantly referenced and recycled, and ego-driven vanity is the predominant state of mind.

These parallels have existed since the birth of hip-hop, but they’ve never been stronger than they are now, in the digital age. Mixtapes and one-off singles are as disposable as fast fashion from Zara and H&M, which itself is often a riff off of the looks at recent fashion shows, sent into production at light speed. The more artful among those shows reference classic or obscure cuts from more traditional practitioners; photography duo Mert & Marcus might riff on the work of Guy Bourdin, or even steal from Jeff Bark, not unlike the way Kanye might lift entire sections of classic tracks from Otis Redding or The Ponderosa Twins Plus One. This magpie instinct is pervasive throughout both fields; Kanye certainly didn’t invent sampling, Mert & Marcus are far from the only photographers that steal artfully, and fashion designers rarely look to the future without borrowing from the past.

So it’s incredibly logical that Kanye would feel like he’s well-positioned to transition from hip-hop to fashion, given that the latter is an industry that awards outsized egos like none other. If he wasn’t so loud, so uncouth, so… black, he would actually fit in quite well in the fickle, ever-shifting climate of high fashion. It’s ironic, that, outside of Anna Wintour’s calculated blessing, Kanye hasn’t been embraced by the fashion community at large, because he so resembles the personalities at the top of that game; if he does succeed, it’s likely they’ll resemble each other even more closely. Kanye Lagerfeld seems like the inevitable conclusion.

But in the here and now, Kanye is exercising the power of pop to reach audiences more massive than any fashion house. There might be only mild interest in Kanye’s new clothing collection, but there is rabid interest in his new music. He’s essentially holding the latter hostage, making us consume his art in his new medium, in order to hear the art in his established medium. Having felt the cold shoulder of designers and houses he admires, he’s forced to try to create a spectacle larger and louder than anything they could pull off. No one else is hosting their runway shows or presentations at Madison Square Garden, or having “20 million people” logging on to watch its debut.

The most shocking thing about all this is that all West really wants is to be taken seriously, but the music is becoming a sideshow to the spectacle. He goes on unhinged tirades on Twitter, defending Bill Cosby and shitting on ex-girlfriends. He name drops Taylor Swift, telling us they might still have sex, and he “made that bitch famous.” We’re shocked, awed, and entertained, but how does one reconcile his trolly antics with the “serious art” he supposedly makes? He’s been devolving lyrically since before Yeezus, and while we haven’t had much time with the new record, references to bleached assholes and fellatio indicate the decline may have continued.

The only thing that’s certain is that Kanye’s celebrity is nearly unmatched. It didn’t really matter what the record sounded like, or what the clothes looked like; we tuned in to hear what crazy shit he might say, or what the Kardashians were wearing, or… anything, really. At this point, he could have literally defecated on his laptop, and someone would find a way to tell us how artful it was. People really did come to Madison Square Garden to see him play “one on no one,” and it probably says more about us than it does about him.