Imagine a party that no one is excited to be at, but that everyone has to attend because the popular bully in school invited them. A crew of bored, tired people dutifully Instagramming and Facebook Live-ing and chasing every mouse of potential viral content. That’s what we can probably expect from Yeezy Season 5. We have yet to hear of anyone in the fashion industry who is looking forward to it. And yet, most likely, there won’t be an empty seat in the house.
The fashion industry has put Kanye West in the proverbial time-out chair of late. His Yeezy Season 4 show on Roosevelt Island was called out for ill-treatment of its models and indifference to attendees’ time. This week, he has run afoul of the CFDA, New York Fashion Week’s governing body, with yet another last-minute crash onto the calendar. And yet, as much as editors and retailers complain about the demands of Yeezy season, they’ll probably be there come West’s show date of February 15. Much like our current commander-in-chief, West manages to flout the carefully drawn rules of play without facing many real consequences.
The Trump comparisons don’t end there. Unlike fellow designers who play by the rules of the press and the CFDA in the hope of good reviews and a favorable show time, West doesn’t need the media Establishment to get his message out. He brings a built-in fan base that will watch the proceedings on his own platforms, whether it’s Tidal or E! or Kim Kardashian’s Snapchat story. So the fashion media is, in a sense, hostage to his narrative. And while the ins and outs of Fashion Week aren’t always of interest to a general audience, anything Yeezy has the potential to attract tens of thousands of eyeballs, and hits. Even readers who aren’t otherwise aware it’s Fashion Week want a play-by-play of the antics. So the fashion publications — this one included — play along.
And West is, even by designer standards, quite sensitive to reviews and criticism of his fashion designs, even lashing out on Twitter when he feels attacked. Remind you of anyone? (Not to mention the legions of fans he mobilizes to defend him/harrass naysayers.) As a designer he seems both unprepared for constructive criticism and un-attuned to the actual demands of the public. Even his claims that he would lower the prices of his collection felt like a faux-populist move, given his continued existence in the high-fashion (read: pricey) space. His global livestreams of the collections, with their slow rollout of each fur-clad family member, feel about as relatable as the court of Louis XIV. (Fittingly, he and Trump share a love of gilded surfaces and ornate décor. The cover of Watch the Throne looks like it could be a ceiling tile in the Trump Tower lobby.) His common ground with Trump’s hollow populism is larger than just their shared love of dad hats.
At first, the industry was willing to give him a chance — his 2011 show in Paris and his Yeezy Season 1 show drew genuinely curious, open-minded attendees including many of fashion’s big names. Sure, some of it may have been the opportunity to stargaze — even jaded editors and buyers would like a chance to see Kanye, Kim, and their famous friends. But fellow A-list celebrities like Rihanna and Victoria Beckham have cultivated a more respectful, and ultimately more successful, approach to the fashion world without relying solely on their fame. Kanye, you aren’t the only one who misses the old Kanye.
Of course, while West has declared an interest in running for president, and has praised and met with Trump — with newly dyed blond hair to match — he is hardly on a par with him in terms of ill effect on the world. His impact is limited to inconveniencing fashion people, models, and the media, who are hardly the world’s most downtrodden population. But his chokehold on the spotlight is ultimately bad for fashion as a whole. Young designers who have considerably more interesting ideas about the world around them — like Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss and Rio Uribe of Gypsy Sport — don’t get the attention they deserve. There’s a lot more going on at New York Fashion Week than Kanye, if only we could all be convinced to look elsewhere.