WRITTEN BY: KAITLIN MCCARTHY
Often times American designers take the hit for being known as vanilla in the creative realm of the fashion industry. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Tom Ford have all buzzed under the radar in recent years on the catwalk. Similar looking, (often white, stick thin, glassy-eyed) models walking up and down has grown stale in juxtaposition to rising European and Asian design houses. Yet, one unforeseen individual has ascended above the influence of Americana pattern. More widely recognized as a rapper/songwriter by many, Kanye West divulged himself into the fashion business in the mid-2000s, when he starting collaborating with athletic wear powerhouse, Nike, on a sneaker line. It wasn’t until years later that the rapper/designer began working on his independent brand alongside Adidas, Yeezy, that has since taken the fashion business by storm.
For his debut collection, West threw away the standards of gazelle models strutting down a catwalk to an end of a runway. Instead, models all stood in a military-like formation on stage, stepping forward in groups at a time towards the front of the stage. In his second collection, in a massive production within Madison Square Garden, West seamlessly combined music culture and fashion by dropping his latest album during his show, while models stood stark together on a stage. While West received criticism from industry professionals for lack of creativity in his clothing, it is impossible to deny that his collections did not have a significant influence on the popularity of athleisure and many of the most popular trends today.
West’s collections are not only impactful in their boldness and divergence from the normality of the structure of a traditional show, but also because his involvement and influence in music makes his shows especially memorable. The collaboration of music and fashion together as one art form is certainly a concept within runway history that if is not new, is rarely done in a groundbreaking, impactful manner.
West has also become widely known for and unfortunately, a pioneer of the fashion industry in using some of the most diverse models in his shows. It is extremely disheartening that it has taken the fashion industry so long to finally begin to include models of color and of a more average body weight. From season one, West’s shows include a diverse range of ethnicities, as well as many models with curvier body shapes. His show for his third collection was made up of 100% models of color, a jarring jump from what we are used to seeing at fashion weeks. Huffington Post reports that less than ¼ of all models at Fashion Week in 2016 were of color.
There is no doubt that West’s popularity as a musician helped excel his career in the fashion industry. His polarizing personality is off-putting to many, but whether you love him or hate him, you can’t deny his ability to innovate or push boundaries, and his influence in the industry is clearly here to stay.