“Are the Sharks Gonna Eat Me Alive?" A Conversation With Kanye West

Speaking with Yeezy about returning to the runway, breaking boundaries, and what's next.

Quick recap: Performing twice at the Grammys and proving he's as culturally divisive as ever. A year of expectations surrounding the Kanye x adidas line coming to a screaming crescendo. The most anticipated New York Fashion Week show in recent memory. A monstrous outdoor performance in numbing temperatures. A surprise cameo at Drake's concert. Personally contributing to a massively successful sneaker launch by handing out pairs of Yeezy 750 Boosts to the morning's first customers. Appearing on Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary special. Dude's busy.

And yet, on a snowy Saturday, Kanye West still has the patience and enthusiasm to geek out over sneakers another dude in the Mercer Hotel lobby is rocking. Spying a pair of New Balance 696 "Re-Engineered" sneakers, the man who can literally move mountains reflects on a moment of recent vulnerability: "Those are the shoes that, when they came out, I was like, 'Fuck! We already designed these.' They have the exact same perforation, color palette; it's the same situation." When the New Balance owner suggests the Yeezy Boosts that Kanye is wearing are actually better, he replies, "In some ways."

It's a small moment in our conversation, but hearing Kanye West concede that the insanely hyped sneakers he created aren't automatically the dopest kicks in the room is indicative of his extremely considered approach to music, design, and everything else. Nothing exists on a simple binary of good and bad. To Kanye, every aspect across the whole spectrum is worthy of a look, and it's with this studied process that he creates, designs, and even converses.

It's not what we've come to expect from the world's top celebrities, and it is for sure a reason why he sought out a partnership that gave him the freedom to create how he needed to create. And so, "Yeezy Season 1" has finally touched down, and with Kanye fresh off presenting his full collection, we dove deeper with him on his reinstatement to the runway, and how he's helping to shift the larger conversation.

Interview by James Harris
Photos by Andi Elloway

You've been told endlessly to stick to music and leave fashion alone. But you put together the most talked about show at New York Fashion Week with a full, cohesive collection, and today’s sneaker launch was a massive success. Do you think people are still going to try and keep you confined within a single box?
I don’t know. I can’t… I don’t know. People never cease to amaze me.

With all that you’ve unveiled in the last few days, do you think that you’ve torn down the walls that people have built up around you?
I do think that it’s been a strong week. It’s been a strong past three years. From the messaging leading up to it, to that front row, to the presentation, to the price points we want to hit, to the purpose of getting product to the people. And, you know, having a think tank that's equal to what a normal fashion house would have, but for the people.

Right, and with that you’ve been so adamant about raising the general standard in taste and aesthetics across the whole spectrum. With the arrival of “Yeezy Season 1,” how far along are you in this mission? 
I think with DONDA and what we’ve been doing, and the way we affect the way people do their artwork or the way Kim’s wardrobe affects the way people approach shopping, it’s been an ongoing thing slowly creeping and slowly creeping. 

Before, when I drove down the street I would see these brands and think they're really desirable for a girl who would dream of one day walking in that runway show or something like that. And that's a, you know, dated view and degrading to women, in a way.

Because when I was a single bachelor rapper, and with the access that I had, I realized that I wasn’t respecting women the way I needed to. God has an amazing way of teaching people, and literally for two years I lived with all alpha females and a daughter, you know? [Laughs] So I had to learn to really do what my mother taught me, and become the man she always knew I could be, and bow as a creative.

You know those photos that you see with me getting on my knees in front of the paparazzi to fix Kim’s pant leg? That's what I want to do for the world. I want to get on my knees and fix everyone’s pant leg, if they’ll have me. If they’ll have me make that adjustment. I want to look at a festival and see what all the kids are wearing, and then say, “Hey I want them to feel like they’re wearing the exact same thing, but somehow just a more informed version.”

A more conscious consumer?
Well I don’t want them to have to think of it. We have a think tank, DONDA, and it's an idea group. We’re sitting there and just bouncing ideas with each other. The people who worked on the moon boots, it was a mix between a guy I got from Nike, and the head adidas designer, and a girl I got from Céline, and you could feel that.

The girl, she worked on those Doc [Martens] Célines. As a person who's bought a lot of shoes for my wife, if I saw those white Céline boots I would’ve copped those right quick, from Monge Market or whatever. Whoever they were by. Whether they were by Céline or whoever, you know what I’m saying. And now we can bring that to the people.

A lot of people don’t realize or choose to ignore how vast your knowledge of fashion is, and just to kind of showcase the fact, how about I throw out a few labels and you just give me some thoughts off the top of your head?

Haider Ackermann.

You love his stuff.

How’d you discover him?

Galliano’s first collection at Margiela.
Passion. Soul. Spirit. Breaking walls. People allowed to create again.

[Pauses] Legendary. Street standard.

Hood By Air.
Shayne is energy.

You excited for his show tomorrow?
Hell yeah!

What was going through your head when you came out and took a bow on Thursday?
I just felt that my life was dependent on the success of this show. I set myself up to win or fail. To win or fail. And people were just waiting. “Is he gonna do it?”

It was almost like the Super Bowl of culture in a way. It was like a David Blaine move in some ways. Are the sharks gonna eat me alive? It was, “Will he be eaten by the shark tank, or will he survive? Can he hold his breath for this long?” The three on the back of the Tyvek jacket invites was about the three years that I had been off the runway. And I had to hold my breath for that long.

And now you’ve exhaled and you’re breathing.
Yeah, we got a little bit more air. I mean, how did you feel?

You know, for someone who isn't thinking six months down the road for a magazine issue, fashion shows can begin to feel pretty routine, especially from, like, the third row. But at your show, there was just a palpable energy you rarely feel. It was an event. Of course I went through everything online later, but while there, it was about what you expressed in your intro. You know, “cracking the pavement” and telling kids not to be afraid and just to create, I feel like that’s what this is a platform for, in a way. And you probably opened the floodgates for what's to come from whoever got affected.
For real.

From the unknowns out there.
Yeah. For the unknowns.

But going back to the established dudes, you’re friends with a lot of fashion designers, like Riccardo Tisci, Alexander Wang, Olivier Rousteing... Have they given you any feedback on the collection?
They support me one hundred percent. They sent flowers, emails, and just love. They know I’m in that design office. They know I’m there giving an opinion. They know the concept of celebrity designer is so far out the window.

I feel like I’m Eminem, you know? You don’t think "white rapper." You just think Eminem. You don’t think celebrity designer, straight designer, black designer, all these types of things that kind of held me back conceptually in being accepted as a designer. You just think of those words. But when those moon boots come out, you put them on your feet and just swag out and go somewhere with your friends, those words don't matter.

I’m just happy that I was able to apply the mentality and passion that brought the College Dropout into existence. Now, I may finally have enough of a point of view and understanding to apply and create. Enough of a vision to make. There’s so many far more talented designers but I just have a perspective and a heart. And I’m gonna give all the heart and perspective that I can.

So what’s next?
More dope shit.

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