In her reaction to the mockery social media made of Kim Kardashian’s armed robbery in Paris this weekend, model Chrissy Teigen handed down a pretty well-measured take on celebrity and its interaction with the public. Her most salient point was reduced to one 140 character clip: “Fame is interesting,” she tweeted. “Celebs are supposed to love you guys while also knowing you'd make a meme of our dead bodies to get retweets.” If the critique is heavy handed, it’s also true; memes are generally created quickly in the wake of a celebrity death. The larger point of the public investing just as much in a celebrity's rise as their fall is also one that has been paralleled by the relationship between the Kardashian-Wests and the fashion industry.
Kim and Kanye’s journey into the fashion industry has been a lengthy and convoluted one. Kanye’s is the story more often told, tracing back to early designs for sneaker brands like Nike and Reebok, internships with Fendi and Louis Vuitton, and his first attempt as a designer with his ill-fated DW brand. But Kim had her own problems, as well. As designers like Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci began to dress her, they were vocal about doing so in spite of the industry’s opinion of the growing star. Even her relationship with Vogue hasn’t been all roses; before her infamous 2014 cover with Kanye, she was cropped from a Met Gala photo.
But then, things seemed to settle. As time passed, it seemed the industry was coming to terms with the fact that the Kardashian-Wests were going nowhere. They routinely appeared on magazine covers. Half-sister Kendall’s modeling career genuinely picked up. Even Caitlyn Jenner was finding some industry support, nabbing an H&M campaign of her own. In fact, though the reviews weren’t always kind, press and celebs turned out in force for Kanye’s Vanessa Beecroft-directed Yeezy shows. His Yeezy Season 3 showcase at Madison Square Garden was a high point; although the most enthusiastic praise she could muster for the clothing was to simply describe it as “wearable,” The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan called the entire experience “stunning” and said it “packed significant cultural punch.” But, only six months later, many of the same industry figures who seemed supportive of the family gleefully reveled in their misfortune.
Though the Kardashians have yet to say anything about the incident (besides Yeezy himself cancelling his Meadows Festival set midway through with a curt “family emergency” announcement), the fashion industry has apparently been abuzz. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that journalists and editors in Paris for Fashion Week expressed their thoughts outside the hotel where the incident occurred. “She was probably drunk after the L’Oreal party and let them in accidentally,” one reporter, who was identified only as American, said. “Or she tagged herself there. Criminals can have Instagram, too.” (Nevermind that Kim maintains that she rarely drinks and that the last month of her Instagram posts include no location tags.) The rest of the comments were similarly sneering and laced with schadenfreude.
Chanel creative director and legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld spoke pointedly about Kim’s multi-million dollar jewelry heist. “If you are that famous and you put all your jewelry on the net, you go to hotels where nobody can come near to the room,” he said in a video interview. “You can not display your wealth and then be surprised that some people want to share it with you.” To be clear, Lagerfeld’s comments are an example of victim blaming. To insinuate that being robbed, bound, and gagged in the middle of the night was Kim’s fault, after publicly posting a hand-written sign of solidarity, is not only bad taste, but should be considered reprehensible. Who was that comment for? Is that how Karl feels, or is he simply servicing a group of snickering, elitist, fashion insiders? Karl says he has a lifetime contract at Chanel and Fendi, so he certainly shouldn’t be worried about any backlash.
Kanye has been on the end of some trumped up hate recently, as well. His latest fashion show, for Yeezy Season 4, was a logistical mess. There’s no disputing that. A late start, an out of the way venue, fainting models; there were some real problems there. But let’s be frank: Isn’t Fashion Week in general a logistical mess? Haven’t fashion shows started an hour late before? Didn’t The New York Times write a feature on the epidemic of fainting models this summer, months before the Yeezy show? This isn’t to justify what went wrong at West’s show, but contextually, the outrage that his presentation garnered for stumbling over some of the same blocks that plague designers industry-wide was outsized. But, why?
Maybe because the industry never did really accept the Kardashian family. Maybe the fashion industry just became so exhausted by the clan's attempts to get on the inside, that it simply began to tolerate the family. And somewhere along the line, enraptured by the power of Kim and Kanye’s huge fanbase, editors and designers identified that their tolerance could be useful. In her review of Yeezy Season 2 for The Cut, fashion critic Cathy Horyn called Kanye's influence a “mind-lock.” But by the next season, Horyn conceded it had grown from just a lock to utter domination. “West may have acknowledged [fashion editor Carine] Roitfeld and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, but let us be clear: The editors may have put the Kardashians on their covers, but it’s they who need the family, and not the reverse,” she wrote. She drove home her point in that article’s close, directed at Kanye: “You have won.”
When the Kardashian-Wests falter, the resulting glee in their misfortune might come from a creeping fear that the insiders have become simply onlookers in their own world, losing any semblance of control. For an industry built on elitism, that’s a bitter pill to swallow; with that, some very transparent bitterness is bound to escape.