By now, no one will argue against the idea that Kanye West is one of the most influential people in the fashion industry. Considering the backlash to his Trump comments this morning, he’s also one of the most influential people in any industry, period. But let’s take a look at just how long he has been working to get where he’s at now in the fashion world. Perhaps his fame and success are part of the reason he isn’t focused on talking about and fighting racism as much as he used to be.
His shoes fly off the shelves, pretty much every major fashion media outlet obsessively covers his fashion shows, and his stamp of approval on any designer is bound to make that label hot in the streets. But in spite of Kanye’s successes, it seems that the fashion establishment, and some die-hards are reluctant to give him the kind of adulation he believes he deserves. In spite of the pushback –- both from the rapper and his detractors -– Kanye has managed to build up relevance in the fashion industry against it all. And he’s spent nearly his entire time working his way though the ranks fighting to be able to realize his full creative potential.
Let’s see how Kanye has fought over the years to become the fashion influence he’s always wanted to be.
Kanye teams up with Bape to create the “Dropout Bear” Bapesta sneaker. The design was inspired by the bear mascot that appeared on his College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation album covers. Years later, Kanye dished on Twitter that he asked Bape to do clothing as well, but never made any headway.
Kanye West worked to bring his sartorial point of view to life with his own clothing line, Pastelle. He wore a varsity-style jacket from the then-developing label to the 2008 AMA’s. The blue, red, and yellow color blocked number had the brand’s name emblazoned at the left breast on the front and across the back. It was a look that was hard to miss, but by 2009 it would be another one for the Getty archives. Pastelle never got off the ground back then — though it looks like it might now with the help of Ian Connor — but it wouldn’t be the last design effort from the rapper.
Kanye and Nike announce the release of Air Yeezy 1. Kanye West paved the way for shoe supremacy among sneaker heads with this collaboration with the major athletic label.
Kanye drops a 3 style (Jasper, Don, and Mr. Hudson), 10 colorway capsule sneaker collection with Louis Vuitton.
Rumors of Kanye interning at The Gap were going around, but the retailer’s then creative director Patrick Robinson says he wasn’t actually officially working for them. “He’s a friend of mine, and he just likes to see what we do. I tell him, if he wants people to take him seriously in fashion, they have to see blood first! They have to see the blood and the sweat, to see that he really wants it — but he definitely has the capability.”
After the now-iconic Taylor Swift interruption at the 2009 MTV VMAs in September, Kanye took a six-month break away from the spotlight, which included a four-month stint as an intern at Fendi. West also says he did a two-year apprenticeship for Giuseppe Zanotti, but kept it secret at the time because he was under contract with Louis Vuitton, working on a shoe collection. So Kanye did begin at the bottom, or as far down as a celebrity with a huge following and millions of dollars can go. From the start, he exhibited a desire to learn from the masters of the trade, to show his legitimate interest and how serious he was about becoming an actual force in the industry. It seems that he thought showing aligning himself with some of the most celebrated houses and designers would be enough for the fashion elite to take him seriously. But it wasn’t so easy.
Kanye adds another high-fashion collab to his belt, tapping Phillip Lim to work his magic on the wardrobe for his Runaway movie. The film reminded everyone of Kanye’s incredible creative eye, and helped usher in a bit more of a grown-up Kanye sartorially. It seemed Kanye’s momentum within the fashion industry was beginning to pick up.
According to one of many of Kanye’s passionate Tweet storms, the rapper moved to Paris and opened a design studio to work on his creative projects. West name-dropped Azzedine Alaïa as one of the designers who visited the space.
The Riccardo Tisci-designed artwork for Kanye and Jay Z’s single “H.A.M.” is unveiled. 2011 was the start of an extended creative collaboration between the Givenchy designer and Kanye West. Tisci also created the artwork for the Watch the Throne album, and designed looks and merch for the following tour. Kanye was building on his connections in the industry, and his designer buddies show that there is a continued interest from fashion elites to work with him.
Kanye West shows his first collection for Spring 2012. The show is universally panned, with many critics citing fit problems and overall vision as some of the collection’s biggest issues. The New York Times reported overhearing West at the Céline Show talking to Joe Zee about his collection. “He engaged Joe Zee, the creative director of Elle, in a lengthy dialogue, loud enough for everyone around them to hear, in which he noted, as one example, that he did not very much appreciate the criticism of his decision to show fur for summer.” The Times also mentions West speaking of the loans he took out in order to put on the production.