Kanye West and Donald Trump have a lot in common. They both have outrageously inflated egos. They both enjoy widespread, cult-like followings. They both shouldn’t handle their own Twitter accounts. They both think anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a loser. And they’re both convinced that they’re the world’s greatest designer (Kanye) and presidential candidate (Trump) despite the fact that they’re both grossly inexperienced and underqualified. However, they’re both wildly entertaining, and because of that final similarity, I had every intention of attending Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion week concert at Madison Square Garden. That is, until late Wednesday night.
I should mention that Yeezy was kind enough to extend Fashion Unfiltered an invitation—which we requested. This is our first season in the game, and they could have easily said no (though they did have an entire stadium to fill). I understand that over 20 million people watched yesterday’s Yeezy Season 3 livestream, that West performed his new album, The Life of Pablo, and unveiled his collection to a full house, and that the latest Yeezy lineup will undoubtedly sell out the moment it goes on sale. That’s all great—celebrities have that effect.
Also great is the fact that West is passionate about fashion. Because of him, a whole new audience is now interested in, or at the very least, aware of, Maison Margiela, Givenchy, Raf Simons, Katharine Hamnett, and even Thomas Tait. (West has attended his show in the past.) But just because someone enjoys something doesn’t mean he’s skilled at it.
Kanye West is not a designer. His clothes are athletic riffs on vintage Margiela, Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, et al. (not bad references, though, I’ll give him that). He is a very talented, very successful musician who happens to be a fashion enthusiast. None of that bothers me in the least—like I said, I find West very entertaining. What bothers me is that he hosted a massive concert masquerading as a fashion show in the middle of the first day of NYFW, and that editors, buyers, journalists, critics, stylists, and other industry players felt the need to drop everything and attend.
If recent events are any indication, fashion week is pretty screwed up. The fashion schedule doesn’t make sense, consumers are bored by the time the clothes sent down the runway hit stores, traditional fashion shows may or may not be relevant anymore, etc., etc., etc. But we don’t have a solution just yet. And you know who really doesn’t have a solution? The many young designers who spent a great deal of money organizing presentations that were overlooked or overshadowed because Kanye West felt like debuting knee socks and sweatshirts alongside his album at 4 PM.
It could have been worse. Most of the brands whose time slots initially conflicted with West’s were able to push their presentations, and West didn’t choose to host his event at some out-of-the-way warehouse. But when WWD reported that the event would take up to 90 minutes, I realized that I needed to choose between going to a concert in Midtown or running between downtown shows and presentations where I planned to conduct pre- and post-show interviews. Seeing as I am a fashion journalist, and not a music critic, I decided to do the latter.
That’s not to say that West isn’t relevant to the fashion world—of course he is. He’s a trendsetter. You could even call him an insider. He surrounds himself with intelligent, fashion-savvy people (stylists, photographers, and consultants) and is absolutely part of the fashion conversation. But he is not a fashion designer, and it was pompous to host this pseudo-industry affair during the one week when many worthy but largely unknown designers have but a moment to catch the right editor’s, blogger’s, or buyer’s overwhelmed eye. Their success depends on fashion week. West’s does not.
Vogue Runway’s Nicole Phelps made a great point in her recent story, Celebrity Designers Make It Tougher For Emerging Talents at New York Fashion Week: fashion needs celebrities just as much as celebrities need fashion, but emerging brands can’t stand up to a famous face with unlimited funds. At least Rihanna is holding her Fenty presentation on Friday evening after the day’s shows have finished. It’s also worth noting that she has at no point expressed that she’s fashion’s second coming, or that she wants to be the creative director of Hermès, as West did during his show. Maybe Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, that house’s creative director, should discard her years of experience at Celine, Maison Martin Margiela, and The Row, and launch a rap career. If West really loves fashion as much as he says, why doesn’t he back a young designer’s line instead of hiring them to design for his? That would be impressive, no?
Anyway, West’s concert looked like fun. It was an outing that touched his fans all over the world, and it’s fascinating to see how consumers and fashion insiders alike react to it. And if he does something similar not in the middle of umpteen other shows and presentations, I’ll be there (if I’m invited). I love good music. But yesterday, I thought it was important to focus on designers who have but a fleeting moment to make it big. Speaking of which, you should read about all of them in our Collections section. Some may very likely turn out to be, as The Donald says, huuuuuge.