Fashion people love it when a designer ups the ante during the show season. Take us to Mars! Kanye West didn’t take us to Mars yesterday, but he did take us inside his brain — and it was nearly as inflamed.
West chose Madison Square Garden as the launch site for both his new album, The Life of Pablo, and the presentation of his latest fashion collection, Yeezy Season 3. (I don’t know if West intends for us to say "Yeezy Season 3," as we will surely say "Yeezy Season 4," but I like saying it, because it aligns so well with other curated experiences.) For West, working in an arena is normal, but for the rest of us — editors, buyers, and roughly 16,000 fans who bought tickets — being in the Garden for a fashion show/listening party felt like an event.
Indeed, it cued up with the presidential race — the big rallies and the feeling, perhaps above all, that the script is being written as we go, and not necessarily by the people who’ve been in charge in the past. This is where West succeeded with his Garden spectacular — the idea of it more than the actual content of the two-hour show. He drew in a predominantly young, racially mixed crowd. He spoke directly to them — and, you might say, rather awkwardly bared his insecurities — after he’d played his new album. And despite the ridiculous scale and design of the presentation, which included several hundred models dressed to resemble refugees and grouped on a rag-draped platform under the Jumbotron, West managed to make things seem intimate. He stood at his DJ board, surrounded by a group of friends. He danced and fooled around. He several times acknowledged his newly peroxided wife, Kim Kardashian, seated near center-court with the rest of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, all dressed in white or pale pink, and their friends, including Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing, and attendants. And he even played a song about himself, as if he were in on the one-time joke of a major rap star entering the holy land of fashion designers.
Well, who’s laughing now?
“I want to thank Adidas for paying for this,” West told the crowd at one point. He then began to chant, “Waddya say? Waddya say?”
To which the audience responded: “Fuck Nike! Fuck Nike!”
“Y’all ain’t saying that loud enough,” West answered back.
“FUCK NIKE! FUCK NIKE! FUCK NIKE!”
A minute later, West, referring to his Yeezy footwear, said in earnest: “I mean, it’s the No. 1 shoe. No. 1 Christmas present. It’s not regular.”
Nor is West’s path to this strange moment in our culture.
Don’t get me wrong: The presentation was extremely muddle-headed, and there’s not much really happening with the clothes. Yeezy Season 3 looks pretty much like an expanded version of seasons 1 and 2, though I’m told that the top stylist Joe McKenna was involved this time, and that may account for the feeling that the collection had more substance. Some people said they detected a trace of 1980s Alaïa in the close-fitting shapes (partly, I suppose, because Naomi Campbell and Veronica Webb, both close friends of Alaïa, were briefly in the show, wearing long fur coats). But that claim seems a stretch to me. Besides, Alaïa’s influence is so powerful it’s pretty much embedded in the cosmos.
The show’s problems were of a different sort, and in a way they reflect the general state of the fashion world — in particular, the sense that an experience often begins with delight and almost always ends with a feeling of nothingness.
I was struck, for instance, by the fact that the models really didn’t move, although a few sat down, perhaps out of fatigue. They basically stood stock-still on the platform for nearly two hours, surrounded by a moat of additional models dressed in rusty-brown garments. You could occasionally see pieces on the Jumbotron, but I got the sense that the clothes were secondary to West. They didn’t really matter. Nobody will remember the specifics (such as they are).
The contrast between the models’ refugee look and the rich-bitch clothes worn by the Kardashians and Jenners was also curious. Their clothes were apparently designed by Rousteing, whom West gratefully acknowledged near the end of the show, along with the editor Carine Roitfeld (“What’s up, Carine? Thank you for being a real bitch”). Well, I guess, nobody really wants to see a bunch of glamorous people look sad, and Kanye’s designs do not exactly uplift. In fact, the group’s entrance, in fluffy white and sparkles, was truly wonderful. If the Garden represented West’s bid for total domination of the fashion Establishment, it is already an accomplished fact for the Kardashians. West may have acknowledged Roitfeld and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, but let us be clear: The editors may have put the Kardashians on their covers, but it’s they who need the family, and not the reverse. Note that Wintour was seated in the Kardashian section. Frankly, this was a mistake: She needed to be seated with her own people, where her power is clear and separate. Instead, she looked diminished, like a Kardashian accessory.
Finally, there was West’s mouth-off moment at the end. He had to go there, didn’t he? This is when he opens the kimono and rants about the crazy artist whose dreams are being controlled by various dark forces, and how he has overcome them and blahblahblah. He wears everything on his sleeve, his ego as well as his innocence. He even shared a clip from a video game he had created of his mom entering the gates of Heaven. The imagery was utterly banal, though the impulse was one many a loving son can probably identify with — Mom transformed into a rocket ship blasting into the big blue beyond.
But, in the end, I just wanted to tell Mr. Kanye West: Shut up. Relax. You have won.