When Kanye West accepted his Vanguard Award at the 2015 VMAs, he didn’t take the stage so much as ascend like a self-appointed god climbing the steps to heaven. West’s every move in the public eye has been tinged with unabashed nerve and lack of subtlety—from interrupting Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs to famously proclaiming to millions of viewers that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people during a Hurricane Katrina telethon broadcast. When West finished his VMA acceptance speech with a cavalier bid for the 2020 presidential election, he made top headlines the next day but no one was really all that surprised.
While many love to dismiss Kanye West as a self-important egomaniac with no filter, 200 people still elbowed their way through the crowd this past Wednesday in hopes of sneaking a peek at the controversial rapper and his newest Yeezy collection. Held in Skylight Modern, a basement studio in Chelsea, West’s second installment to his collaboration with Adidas, aptly titled “Yeezy Season 2,” was unveiled as a surprise fashion show.
As a last-minute addition to the NYFW schedule, it comes as no surprise that West’s impromptu show ruffled a few industry feathers. While designer Naeem Khan’s show went on as scheduled, Anne Bowen, who had been planning to launch her new streetwear collection, Nomad VII during the same noon time-slot, had to move her show date to Thursday in order to accommodate West’s show. “Kanye knows he is a media sensation and it is just not ethical to do this, ” said Bowen said in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily. “It’s like we are David and he is Goliath. We have put our heart and soul into our show, and should not be stepped on like this.”
Yeezy Season 2, reminiscent of his first collection back in February, featured lightweight, military-inspired pieces set in a monochromatic palette. While the rest of the Kardashian clan sat front row, alongside Riccardo Tisci, Lorde, Drake, Michael Strahan, Common, Seth Meyers, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, West’s sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner, modeled for the show.
Much like his first Yeezy presentation, West featured models in sizes atypical of the silhouettes you usually see on the catwalks at NYFW. In collaboration with performance artist Vanessa Beecroft, models in a variety of shapes and sizes emerged in four military squadrons, as directed by a model-turned-drill sergeant at the front of each group. West arranged the military-inspired presentation by skin color, labeling the models in varying skin tones with “light,” “medium,” or “dark.” As models marched down the runway clad in nude body suits, baseball caps, and layered hoodies, the shading varied from beiges and taupes to blacks and browns, getting darker as the show progressed.
It was a bold move that certainly raised a few brows in the industry. While rapper Ice-T took to Twitter to denigrate the fashion line as, “future slave gear,” West explained in an interview with Vogue, “It’s just a painting, just using clothing as a canvas of proportion and color.” Drawing focus to fashion aesthetics rather than what many suspected to be commentary on racial injustice, West chose not to utilize his art as a platform for a deeper political message. Instead, he stuck to showing off his athleisure line of sweatshirts, outerwear, and leggings.
West, as one of the most polarizing figures in American pop culture, owes some of his career success to shock value and its ability to drum up media attention. From criticism of Bush to the media’s portrayal of Katrina’s black victims, it’s not the messages behind West’s outbursts that people often find off-putting but the way in which he presents them. The industry’s elite found issue with the fact that his fashion show bumped Naeem Khan, Anne Bowen, and Josh Ostrovsky (commonly known as “the Fat Jew”) from their designated time slots. Detractors to his fashion line also love pointing out that West rips off Helmut Lang, Alexander Wang, and Rick Owens, but West’s first collection garnered more views than Chanel on style.com and reigned as the most talked-about show last week. Whether his line will find success once it finally hits stores or lives up to the specific brand of shock value and media hype that West frequently touts still remains unknown.
Featured Image by Randy Brooke / Getty Images for Kanye West Yeezy