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Kanye West’s influence on current fashion industry is undeniable. He leaves a legacy to a generation of designers and several generations of customers that would be worth studying, revealing to many that even hates him that they’ve been dressing as he dictated. Let’s do a recap…
We could start from the eruption of luxury streetwear in beta phase and the establishment of minimalism and workwear references in his first collections for Yeezy. The depth of Kanye’s message would lead us to analyze his tweets from the last 8-10 years. Deciphering these dreamlike content could burn our brain in seconds.
West’s creative webs reach to places most of us don’t know. As it was a bee pollinating the industry, Ye managed to change forever the scenario from the shadows.
Under his wings, many of the most relevant designers and creatives we enjoy today started their path. Those who are shaping a new paradigm, far away from the one governed by a bunch of old men, trapped in an obsolete mentality (we’re talking about Armani, Lagerfeld, Donatella, Pierpaolo, Galliano…) Although it’s true they were the founding fathers of the industry or revolutionize it in a concrete era, they were failing in connecting with the new consumption system imposed by retail giants and the raise of fast fashion.
The kids born in the early 90s and then in the 2000s were thirsty for change. The arrival of Internet shook the foundation of this exclusive world forever.
Back go Kanye, we must remember that the first sneaker collab Louis Vuitton ever did was with him back in 2009. The so coveted Jaspers (after his friend and stylist Ibn Jasper) and Dons made him the first black creative to ever work with the Parisian maison. In 2018, his pupil Virgil will be named Men’s Creative Director for LV.
Talking about 2009, those were the days where Ye had in his team non others than Virgil Abloh, Heron Preston, Matthew M Williams, Chicago Don C… No one will ever forget that almost comical picture of Kanye and his crew posing before Commes des Garçons’ show at Paris Fashion Week. That trip to France’s capital city will change the conception of the fashion ecosystem for good.
After that show, they noticed something was missing in all that circus around fashion weeks. Though for us is inconceivable these days, the posing thing in the entrance of the fashion shows displaying your outfit didn’t happen in the pre-influencers era. Now we can’t think of fashion weeks without streetstyle. Those Chicago kids were determined to shake-the-hell-up everything established to date.
As I mentioned previously, Kanye West fed some of the most groundbreaking designers of today and, without a doubt, he was the one knocking down the door for all the black designers trying to be part of that “exclusive” world. In his orbit he had, as we all know, Virgil Abloh as art director for “Watch the Throne”. After the PYREX VISION experiment, which Kanye promoted heavily, the Rockford-born ended up founding Off-White and became Louis Vuitton’s CD as it’s widely known.
Assisting Abloh we had Samuel Ross, who will later create the so anticipated A-COLD-WALL. Working as artistic director too, Kanye hired a by that time unknown Heron Preston. We all know about his homonymous brand. It’s funny how Virgil and Heron himself have their companies under the control of Milanese New Guards Group, owned by Farfetch now.
In addition to that, the world renown Matthew M.Williams was under Kanye’s mentorship too. In his case, the founder of the prestigious ALYX took part of DONDA, the creative agency developed by West to honor his mom.
Another one that emerge from this crew in Paris 2009 was Chicago Don C (@chicagodonc). The now fashion killa is behind the brand JustDon. As well, he joined Virgil to found RSVP Gallery (@rsvpgallery). With locations in both Chicago and LA, is one of the most reputable retailers focused on the artistic scene, sneakers and streetwear.
Gone are the glory days where Kanye and Virgil doing an internship at Fendi. Yup, internship as regular scholars. Those days helped them understand the industry’s structure and detect the inner flaws. The evolution through the years aren’t strange to anybody.
Another milestone that changed the way we saw the figure of the fashion designer was the release of the Jay Z and Ye joint album. We are talking about 2011 and Riccardo Tisci, now at Burberry, when he was Givenchy’s creative director. The Italian was responsible for the artistic part and visuals of the project, greatly acclaimed from the insiders and public. “Watch the Throne’s” cover belongs to hip hop history.
Beyond the work at the musical area, Tisci (@riccardotisci17) designed some tee for the tour under the firm he was running back then. Givenchy’s popularity upturn was massive and Riccardo become very well known to the masses. The tour’s merch and Hova and Ye’s outfits are still in our memories and are part of contemporary fashion history. Those were the days where Kanye rocked his Nike Air Yeezy 2 NRG “Solar red”. The days were the seed was planted. The current dementia came after.
Working with the Beaverton guys came to an end in 2013 after they denied Kanye all the royalties for his designs. In 2015, his main competitor, adidas, knocked Yeezus’ door to offer him a full project. The ones with the trefoil and “Jesus is King’s” author had a previous contact back in 2006, but it didn’t fructify. It’s funny how through the years ALL the kids that one day collaborated with Ye ended up collaborating with Nike. Virgil, Heron, Samuel Ross, MMW, Don C and, even Ricardo Tisci, worked at some point with the Oregon-based brand. It may sound romantic or even naive, but somehow it sounds like a tribute from Knight and Bowerman’s pupils to Kanye through his most remarkable assistants. Maybe now they regret not giving him those royalties…
October 29th 2015, “YEEZY SEASON 1” was presented. This was the first and last time the Herzogenaurach-based company will develop a clothing collection for YEEZY. This alliance will bring a change of the sneaker market and the way these were being bought. The word “raffle” became a essential part of the new sneakerheads’ vocabulary and, mostly, resellers.
The limited edition condition of these releases, that started with the Yeezy Boost 750 “Light Brown” in February 2015 resulted in a collapse of the demand. These high-tops buit in suede and with the popular Boost technology in the sole were the beginning of the current insanity around almost any launch. In this case, only 9000 units were available in NYC through the adidas app. They were sold out in 10 minutes. Subsequently, more colorways and material improvements followed.
After the awakening of all millennials with this silhouette, the clash of the system arrived with the release of the 350s in June that same year. The first version of these kicks and the initial colorways laid the foundations of the excessive hype around the sneaker universe currently.
We all know the gigantic impact Kanye West’s approval in anything has. If his Yeezus Tour merch became almost a museum piece, his Yeezy Boosts are on their way to the highest altars. If Ye’s busted buying fried chicken in a particular food chain, you bet everybody is going to put their attention to it, no matter you are a fan or a hater. It’s Ye approved.
Back to the 350 Boosts, its release meant the activation of a secondary market asleep until then. Its main activity was the trade and resale of iconic sneakers, vintage silhouettes, samples and rare pairs. The arrival of the adidas x Yeezy collab dismantled that culture for good and made it as mainstream as it could. The limited units available from the first releases and the Chicago-born influence in the market and several generations that loved him already for his music made the system explode. People paid $11000 for a pair of 750s with a retail price of $350. The “Turtledoves” and “Black pirates” are still being sold for thousands of dollars, being the peak $7700 for the first ones, when the retail price $200.
This anxiety for Yeezy’s shoes wasn’t the same for the clothing line. Just a few pieces were “sold out”. Some of the designs from de adidas Calabasas managed to fly from the shelves, mainly due to its lower price range.
This new configuration of the consumption of limited goods was a change of direction for the conception we had of luxury so far. Having a pair of 350s became luxury instead of garments from Gucci, Prada or Margiela. The reduced accessibility became the new exclusivity and the ones buying preferred something less accessible than something with a higher quality. One of the main referents in this phenomenon is Supreme, that went from a brand for skaters and streetwear aficionados to a global pandemic infecting in its path all millennials and those looking for a business opportunity. We should emphasize that this could not have happened without the grossly need for the likes provoked by Instagram. This social network was the spark that initiated the fire still burning everything around. And it doesn’t seem to slow down soon.
Now a multimillion company, stockX was born from this need to cop the last Yeezys no matter the price just to post it on IG and get a bunch of likes. What a better way to go to bed than a belly full of ego? Best of this is that Kanye himself has no Instagram account and, still, there ara some profiles spreading his word to everyone. Yeezy Mafia (@yeezymafia) has become the pseudo official profile for anything related to the rapper and designer. Their 2,7 millions followers have the most accurate content around everything in Kanye’s life. There’s nothing like this on IG.
The releases of the 500, 350 v2, 950, 700, 700 v2, 380 and QNTM silhouettes recently didn’t provoke that level of madness the first 350s did, but they almost all sold out within minutes and reached pretty high resale prices. According to stockX, YEEZY is copping the 15% of this secondary market, while Nike hoards an 80% of it. Until the Kanye’s arrival, the Oregon-based brand had the 96% of this market.
Back to the beginning of the article, I’ll add that Kanye’s influence has turned over the market as we knew it and he managed to make both supporters and haters dance to his song. Regardless of being his clothes or others “inspired” by them, the globalization of his aesthetic is a well-known fact. He didn’t invente a thing, he just made everyone follow him. All the neutral palettes, oversized cuts, the implementation of military and workwear inspired pieces and shoes, the layering, the madness around the sneakers, the almost disappearance of the skinny pants… Anything he’s touched or wore you are doing the same right now.
If the fashion industry hadn’t had Kanye, they’ve had to create him. His catalyst role has been fundamental to develop the current scenario. Without Kanye we won’t have Off-White (@off___white) nor the new Louis Vuitton (@louisvuitton), ALYX (@alyxstudio) wouldn’t be Kim Jones’ Dior collaborator. A-COLD-WALL (@acoldwall) wouldn’t have its prestige, as well as Heron Preston (@heronpreston), wouldn’t have had the chance to work with NASA. Even Riccardo Tisci himself and Givenchy (@givenchyofficial) wouldn’t have reached that popularity without WTT and, perhaps, Tisci won’t be shaking up Burberry today. Anyone knows who’s the current CD at the Parisian house?
Luxury brands wouldn’t have started doing sneakers and their imaginaries will remain almost the same, without the outstanding evolution they’ve had recently. They’ll be spinning around classic tailoring on loop. We wouldn’t have the luxury streetwear scene, wearing a tracksuit would be cheap and tacky, you would never have bought a pair of hiking boots or that gold chain you sport 24/7 would never have happened. That’s Mr. West’s legacy. You owe him, but you didn’t know. And to Kim Kardashian too. His role as his husband’s creation ambassadress has been key among the feminine audience. What a tandem.
The high end brands consumer and, above all, the new consumers, asked for the change YEEZY started. Like it or not, we all love to be Kanye.
You love Kanye more than Kanye loves Kanye.