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Kanye, the genius of hip hop fashion

Kanye West is no longer just the music industry’s favourite genius gone wild, but he’s also increasingly ahead of the trends in the fashion world. The 24-time Grammy Award-winning rapper is constantly making himself heard, unafraid of a tough word or two, and scandal is never far from the man’s reach, to say the least. He recently attended Burberry’s Spring 2023 show at London Fashion Week… in a pair of flip-flops and black socks. West teamed the look with a pair of matching leather trousers and a belted jacket, which he layered over a black hoodie …that’s it.

The controversial and very divisive Kanye is now much more than just the founder of Yeezy. With friends such as Naomi Campbell, the late Virgil Abloh, and French fashion icon Michèle Lamy, his influence on the fashion world is growing. But how did the rapper become the fashion world’s formidable fashion mogul? As a testament to the symbiotic relationship between his music career and his sartorial aspirations, West’s fascination with fashion naturally began with fashion raps scattered throughout his chart-topping discography many years before his creative directorial debut. In addition to countless mentions of two big favourites, Balmain and Moschino, West also gave a shout-out to former Céline creative director Phoebe Philo in his 2010 song “Dark Fantasy” when he rapped, “My girl is the new Phoebe Philo”. Prior to entering the upper echelons of the fashion world, West had a relatively rocky path, flirting with two clothing brand ideas in the middle of the last century, Mascotte by K West and Pastelle. Although West enlisted the creative help of renowned professionals such as Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones, neither brand ultimately materialised. Of course, West’s interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs also played a role, as it disgraced the rapper. He resurfaced in October 2011, and at Paris Fashion Week he presented his Dw by Kanye West collection, which was created in honour of his mother Donda West, who passed away in 2007. The show was not well received by critics, and the designer felt humiliated and banned critics from seeing his autumn/winter 2012 collection, although most of them ultimately found it to be a significant improvement on the debut collection, but the brand eventually closed.

Then came Yeezy! Although the Yeezy was co-produced with Adidas, the brand’s journey technically actually began with Nike in 2012, when rumours of a collaboration with the Red October Yeezy 2 sneaker started to spread on social media. The all-red sneaker with grey and gold laces created a huge buzz among sneaker geeks, and Ye was seen as a pioneer of hype culture before it was actually cool. But West was unhappy with the royalties he was being paid and the constant delays in the release of the sneakers, so he cut ties with Nike before the sneaker was even released and quickly switched to Adidas. The Yeezy Season 1 debuted to the world at New York Fashion Week in February 2015. The rapper-designer’s highly anticipated collaboration with Adidas Originals featured military-inspired garments and a colour palette of predominantly military green and navy blue, and West enlisted the help of contemporary performance artist Vanessa Beecroft for the show. The show and the collection also marked a milestone in Yeezy history, as the Yeezy Boost 750 was born and the Yeezy 350 was introduced, which would soon become the defining shoe of the decade. But the road wasn’t all uphill — like Kanye West, the Yeezy brand has faced its fair share of adversity in the six years since its inception. For example, when West kept unsuspecting visitors to his Season 4 show waiting for hours, or when, for his Season 6 launch, the designer decided to premiere the collection via a social media campaign rather than at a flagship fashion week venue.

Last year’s Yeezy X Gap collaboration was a real turning point in West’s career. The collection was led by Nigerian-British designer Mowalola Ogunlesi, who has designed one-off pieces for a range of celebrities from Drake to Naomi Campbell in recent years. Although the collaboration received positive reviews, in September the partnership between Kanye West and Gap officially ended. West officially notified Gap that he was terminating their agreement for the Yeezy Gap clothing line due to breach of contract and planned to open his own stores in the future. We’re looking forward to seeing what Mr Ye comes up with next.