Kanye West has redefined what it means to be a Renaissance Man in the 21st century. At this point, he wants to be—or is, depending on how you see it—a fashion designer, rapper, producer, a God, and who knows what else.
Not that's it's impossible for Kanye to be all those things, but coming from another "slave" to fashion, Yeezy has yet to fully prove himself as a designer, and we shouldn't be so quick to simply hand over all the hyperbolic praise he's been garnering. Kanye's got an amazing sense of style—there’s no denying that. But having a sense of style does not a designer make.
Before the world gives (or denies) him that level of praise and regard, a few things need to happen first.
Since 'Ye started his promotional media run centered around Yeezus, keeping up with every interview and "visionary stream of consciousness" is a task in and of itself. Mostly because: Whose attention span lasts longer than five minutes for different sermons on the same gospel?
But when Kanye sat down with Angie Martinez and spoke about a potential adidas partnership, Yeezus Season hype was rightly renewed. Days later it was confirmed—a reported $10 million deal that would solve the classist problems that have supposedly thwarted Kanye's effort to launch his own fashion line (among them: a lack of complete creative control and sufficient resources, or a budget to work with). Severing ties with Nike over creative restraint and moving to adidas where we can assume he has free reign to design the great product that he talks about sounded like the perfect formula for 'Ye. Yes, finally, adidas can now say: Yeezy taught me well.
But if you're still not sold on the notion of Kanye West, fashion designer? You're not alone.
Kanye's clearly proven himself to be one of the greatest music minds of all time—with an airtight track record for producing other people's songs, producing his own songs, and performing his own songs—but when it comes to the title of fashion designer, his resume isn't nearly as impressive.
Kanye's first public attempt as a designer came with 2006’s now-defunct clothing line, Pastelle. What could’ve been one of the most successful rapper-launched clothing lines we’ve seen only ended up being one big hypebeast cocktease, leaving only a few visual memories for us to dream, and zero product actually seeing shelves. He then went on to collaborate with Louis Vuitton on a sneaker collection, Nike on the “Air Yeezy” series, and A.P.C .on a capsule collection of basics.
Kanye's status as a God won't matter to anyone if he can't deliver a collection to racks...
All of those projects did exceptionally well commercially, each selling out in a matter of hours and stalked on eBay to this very day (their limited quantities are a great lesson in supply/demand economics, if you get down like that). But Kanye’s only parallel attempt at a full clothing line that didn’t include direct collaborators was his eponymous womenswear label.
Kanye has shown his DW Kanye West collection only twice (S/S 2012 and F/W 2012 collections), and both seasons received lukewarm-to-negative responses from the fashion world.
These responses were at least in part the inspiration for that bomb-drop of a line from "New Slaves," in the first verse:
"Doing clothes you would've thought I had help/but they wasn't satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself."
This is where Kanye's wrong, because "they" (see: critics, buyers, other designers) weren't "satisfied" (or: didn't shower it with praise, orders, and respect) for no other reason other than the fact that Kanye "doing clothes" just wasn't Kanye at his best. The lyric was Kanye's rationale for why his high fashion foray wasn't earth-shattering (basically: racism). As a black man in the fashion industry, this writer can—without the spectre of a difference in race hanging over this argument—unequivocally state that Kanye's clothing line didn't deserve the accolades that great designs do garner, and furthermore, that the color of his skin had nothing to do with the reviews.
And this is where a reluctance to unquestionably accept Kanye West as a great mind of fashion comes screaming in. Before the world gives (or denies) him that level of praise and regard, a few things need to happen first.
The most obvious one: Kanye needs to be the very model of consistency when it comes to actual output. The business of fashion isn't like the music industry. Kanye could take years to perfect an album, or even a track, and it'd still be one of the most anticipated works of whenever it was to arrive. But as a designer, collections can't be held until they're deemed ready to release. Consumers and retailers need to trust that a solid, new collection will be delivered every season. Adidas already has the infrastructure and production line to ensure this, but in his music and clothing, Kanye's been known to forgo agreed-upon deadlines to ensure that his output is up to his standard. While that kind of quality control is admirable in theory, in practice, it won't fly in fashion. Kanye's status as a God won't matter to anyone if he can't deliver a collection to racks, no matter how great it looks on paper.
I don't have the answers...But the opportunities and the challenges, at least, are now here...
Kanye also needs to have a cohesive vision. With his first runway collection, it seemed as if he was trying to incorporate elements from such a wide range of inspirations, it resulted in less of an aesthetic and more a series of scattered, disjointed ideas. Kanye's second collection represented a small step forward in cohesiveness and originality, but the only exciting thing about the show were the go-karts that came speeding down its runway. Some of the best designers are able to repeatedly produce collections of clothing that tell stories, that make sense from beginning to end, and that let the world see into the minds of their creators. Kanye has yet to independently do this in a meaningful way.
Let's not forget that this isn't adidas' first time working with a celebrity collection. Ye will need to maintain the standard adidas set when it comes to designer collaborations. With the brand's popular (and wildly successful) Jeremy Scott collaboration and Yohji Yamamoto's amazing talent at mixing athletic fabrics with high fashion in his Y-3 collection (which is to say nothing of Stella McCartney and Opening Ceremony's adidas collaborations, too), Kanye's got the additional expectation at designing a collection that holds its own and still measures up to the standards of la familia d'adidas.
If Kanye wants to make believers of the very critical, very competitive fashion world, he needs to design clothes, and nail it. All of it. The hope here is that his new deal will eliminate any stress about the financial aspect of backing, let alone designing (a luxury too many talented, already-established designers don't have), and Kanye can ideally streamline his ideas, present a solid body of work, and have it see the light of day.
If Kanye wants to make believers of the very critical, very competitive fashion world, he needs to design clothes, and nail it. All of it.
And if that happens, Kanye’s adidas collection will no doubt do crazy numbers, as we’ve seen with anything that has his name attached to it. But while commercial success might be a sign of relevance (at least temporarily), it doesn't always signal true talent. People who typically have no idea what's going on in the hip-hop world often ask if we've heard about the Kanye and adidas partnership, speaking to the kind of reach that Kanye West has in pop culture, and why it makes total sense for adidas to partner with him. Now that Kanye has the kind of the deal that he feels he needs to be successful as a designer, he'll let his work do the talking, and hopefully, deliver on his promise of making the “great product” he’s been expounding upon for so long.
Because truth be told, how can you not want Kanye to prove everyone wrong, and make them want to buy his collection? Not so it could be sold it on eBay for triple its retail value, but so it can actually be owned, be worn, and change the landscape of popular fashion as we know it.
I don't have the answers. Neither do you. Or Sway. But the opportunities and the challenges, at least, are now here: If Kanye wants the fashion world to accept him as a true design talent of the ages, the time for him to make them believe is now, his once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity to hit all the checkmarks above, and erase any doubt that anyone might have.