Kanye West vs. the Fashion Industry

Kanye West and I don’t have a lot in common. He’s a famous rapper with an estimated net worth of $100 million; I’m a third-year media student who can’t even afford to pay $8.50 a month for Vogue Australia. This year he became a father and released his sixth studio album to rave reviews; this year I celebrated my 20th birthday by starting a blog. And from what I can tell, he seems to adore Kim Kardashian and her sisters whereas I am not, uh, particularly fond of them. One thing we do have in common, however, is that we both have very strong opinions about the fashion industry. That’s why I want to address some of the comments Kanye West made in part 5 of his interview with Jimmy Kimmel, in which he blames the fashion industry’s racist and classist tendencies for his short-lived fashion career.

Kanye West and Jimmy Kimmel. Photo from the Hollywood Reporter.

Kanye West and Jimmy Kimmel. Photo from the Hollywood Reporter.

Kanye West is absolutely correct to say that the fashion industry is classist–of course it is! That’s not something it has ever tried to disguise or even seems to be ashamed of. Pick up any issue of American Vogue and you’re bound to see some random rich white woman you’ve never heard of before yapping narcissistically about how she’s “going green”, which probably means that she grew her own tomatoes and installed solar panels on the roof of her country house. How is it that Emmanuelle Alt has put Charlotte Casiraghi (a member of Monaco’s royal family), Carla Bruni (ex-First Lady of France) and Stephanie Seymour (whose husband is made of money) on the cover of Vogue Paris, but has yet to feature a single black model? How is it that unpaid internships are still legal, and worse still common, when there are so many students already drowning in debt and can’t afford to work for free? There is a lot of class discrimination in the fashion industry–some of it is insidious, some of it is more overt.

However, I don’t believe that Kanye West failing as a fashion designer is about class discrimination. It’s not about his being a rapper, or the fact that he’s in a relationship with a reality television star. He funded his spring-summer 2012 runway show out of his own pocket and presented the collection at Paris Fashion Week, making him a little fish in a big, big pond from the very beginning. He had the audacity to invite two of the most visionary designers alive, Azzedine Alaïa and Olivier Theyskens, to what was ultimately a sloppy rendition of bandage dresses and Belgian deconstructionism. Not only that, several of his garments appeared to be complete rip-offs of Balmain, Alexander Wang, and Baby Phat (yes, Baby Phat). Anything that looked remotely original was only so because no real designer with formal training or a professional eye would dare send it down the runway. Case in point: Mirte Maas wearing slinky leggings made from a cheap iridescent fabric with a matching bomber jacket. Truly frightening.

Two looks from Kanye West spring-summer 2012. Images from style.com.

Two looks from Kanye West spring-summer 2012. Images from style.com.

There were graduate students from Central Saint Martins, the best design school in Europe, helping him create the collection. British designer Louise Goldin and Australian stylist Christine Centenera reportedly acted as “consultants”. The front row was filled with famous friends like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. He had a very expensive cast of models to walk the collection. It was covered on style.com, which everyone in the industry looks at. Anna Wintour was even there. And let’s not forget that Kanye didn’t present at some derelict warehouse in Brooklyn, but instead at Paris Fashion Week. PARIS. The city that is the pinnacle of every fashion season, which draws tens of thousands of buyers and journalists to one location twice a year. He had every opportunity to succeed and he didn’t. People gave him a chance. In fact, they gave him two if you count his less offensive fall-winter 2012 collection.

Contrary to what Kanye West claims, this is not the same thing as Michael Jackson struggling to get his videos on MTV. This is not a case of class discrimination or racism. This is about a man delusional enough to think that sitting front row at fashion week for nine years somehow means he understands garment construction, fit and form. This is about a man whose ego is so big that he quit after two seasons because he didn’t have editors rushing to feature his clothes in their magazines, or buyers ringing around the clock to make orders, or journalists spilling every review with effusive praise. The only person who seemed to love it was Anna Dello Russo (she wore a complete look the next day), who basically loves anything that’s gold and shiny or will get her on a street style blog. Did Michael Jackson quit after being rejected? What if Alexander McQueen had given up after two seasons? Or Tom Ford? Or Marc Jacobs? If every designer who is serious about their craft decided to quit after two bad seasons, there would be no fashion designers in the world.

What if Marc Jacobs had given up after two lousy seasons?

What if Marc Jacobs had given up after two lousy seasons?

I’d like to end this post by sharing some thoughts about celebrity designers in general. One of my main criticisms is that celebrity designers do not have any formal training and have not learned the ins and outs of garment construction. They tend to take a very passive approach to design, acting as a figurehead on the label while their team ghost-designs with all of the pressure but none of the praise. Sometimes they’ll just copy clothes right out of their personal wardrobe, make a few tweaks (I almost wrote “twerk”–damn you, Miley!) and then pass it off as new. I am well aware that there are many successful designers without a formal fashion education: Rei Kawakubo, Consuelo Castiglioni, the Olsen twins, etc. But I think times are very different now. It’s much more competitive and the value of a fashion education is so crucial.

I agree that this industry is classist, I just don’t think it applies to Kanye in this situation. One way in which we can counter the elitism and classism, however, is by giving more value to fashion students. Completing a fashion design degree is not easy. It definitely requires a natural creative ability (which is nurtured rather than “taught”) but it teaches lessons. It teaches you that all this is going to amount to something one day. It affirms that there are no short-cuts, and that people should not be able to buy their way to success. Most importantly, there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing designers who started off just like you–as hopeful students–succeed and go on to establish internationally recognised brands. And if Kanye West should by chance come across this post, please understand that just because you excel in one creative field it doesn’t mean you have some kind of ‘carry over’ respect in another. It’s hard work. It’s not something that brings immediate success.

About Hung Tran

22-year-old fashion writer (sort of) from Sydney, Australia.
This entry was posted in Opinion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Kanye West vs. the Fashion Industry

  1. thevrex says:

    Completely agree with this post. Too bad Kanye doesn’t realise that to be successful one must work hard for it.

  2. pokemonique says:

    His problem isn’t that he doesn’t know what hard work is – it’s that very issue of believing that success can be “carried over” to another field. Maybe he just needs to be reminded of what failure is before he realises that.

    • Hung Tran says:

      I’m sure he must’ve experienced failure as a rapper when he first started. Perhaps he’s become so used to praise and applause (his music is good so he deserves it) that he can’t believe it when people don’t love something he does.

  3. Everything else is classed in a way. The only way to break it is to ascend up the stairs by spending nights not on games tweens play but reading and thinking critically about real world affairs.

  4. Please actually do some research on the fashion training he has put in, and also the fashion training of the designers working for him. Sloppy ‘article’. FYI: You might want to include Karl Lagerfeld in your category of designers without a formal fashion education, or even Tom Ford. who actually studied architecture at Parsons.
    He is also in the process, of producing another line. But you would know that if you had researched.
    I guess this post really does prove that just because you are interested in fashion, you should should always put in the work before you comment..

    • Sterling says:

      Kanye talks constantly about his fashion “training.” It’s all about him sitting at the edge of the runway. And Karl does have formal training. He apprenticed for Balmain. Going to school isn’t the only form of training. Training is getting hands on experience, learning how to understand various aspects of being a designer. Fashion school is favored because it teaches you to create a company and hone in on your skills. Kanye sitting in the front row and partying with Riccardo Tisci doesn’t count as training. Getting a group of kids who go to the best fashion school and having them do your dirty work isn’t training. Hung said everything right: he thinks everyone’s against him because he sent out mediocre collections and nobody liked them.

    • Halogenic says:

      LOL, You tried it, sis! Kanye West has about as much “training” in fashion as my great-grandmother, maybe even less. Karl and Tom studied in formal fashion houses (Balmain, Chloé) – Kanye, sadly, did not. Talk about research? Kindly take several seats.

    • Tuileries says:

      Really? I love how you brought this up and then failed to reference any training Kanye has in fashion (spoiler alert: none). Hiring Central St. Martin’s students to design your clothing and consulting with Riccardo Tisci doesn’t count as “training”. And what does Hung’s not including Karl or Tom have to do with the content? Maybe you should do your research before you post a sloppy comment on a well-written article.

    • Hung Tran says:

      What training? If you’re talking about his internship at Fendi, where he claims to have walked to work and brought coffee to people, it sounds like rubbish to me. Four months running errands at Fendi and proposing the idea of leather jogging pants (which they turned down, thank god) is NOT substitute for a fashion education. A man of his celebrity can’t call a few favours to get himself into one of the most iconic Italian brands, pretend to put in the hard yards, and then come out after four months thinking, “That’s it. I’ve done it. Four months is enough for me. I am now ready to be a fashion designer.” It takes YEARS of learning and way more effort than that. Interns deal with heaps of entry level bullshit before they even get to speak to the lead designer directly. They move around from place to place, often working for free. An internship at Fendi can be excellent education, but not when you just run errands, and ESPECIALLY not when you’re only doing it so you can say, “Yeah, I did an internship at Fendi. I’ve paid my dues.” If Kanye really wants to be taken seriously as a designer, he needs to treat himself like an intern. Get as much education as you can. Spend years doing it. At least learn how to sew.

      How does Karl Lagerfeld not having a formal fashion education (which isn’t necessarily true) relevant? Or Tom Ford? I stated that yes, maybe that was okay once upon a time, but things are much different now. The increasingly competitive industry is tipping in favour of the rich and privileged, leaving talented students without opportunities they deserve. That is the very definition of classism.

    • Hung Tran says:

      I should add that designing shoes for Nike and Louis Vuitton also doesn’t count as a fashion education. Nor does meeting a bunch of executives or dropping thirty different models’ names into a rap song.

  5. apparently kanye is a “creative genius” lol
    yeah and I shoot glitter and unicorns out of my nose.
    same thing.

  6. ianthia says:

    i remember watching that interview and at some point kanye says that he wants to work on every platform or something like that. and i sat there thinking, well, that’s pretty much a slap to the face to people who dedicate their lives (and money) to their craft or their specialised field of study only to be upstaged and bypassed for a single shot to make it into the industry by yet another celebrity who wants to be a ‘designer’

    • Hung Tran says:

      He’s very good at making music (the awards speak for themselves) but I don’t think that being purely creative is enough to be a fashion designer, especially not for Paris Fashion Week. He should probably stick to making lucrative middle-market clothes. He can sell a $120 plain white t-shirt like nobody else!

      • Anonymous says:

        i agree! his music is pretty good, and has made an impact in music, but when he starts to think that his success as a rapper can transfer over to the fashion industry as a designer that has the privilege of showing a collection at paris fashion week, that’s where the trouble begins. and once someone prolific as kanye west starts to do that, every b-list actress or bored heiress is gonna get the idea that somehow she can go out there and do the same

  7. Cara says:

    I thought Mary mate and Ashley went to school for fashion?

  8. Pingback: Quote: Louise Wilson on Fashion Education | Antwerpsex

  9. Peter says:

    Kanye west is one of the greatist hip hop producers of the World. But im really maf about that Every celeb think that can be fashion desginer. ITS à passion and you must get talent. He dont have anny talent in fashion. He have friend that desgining for him. So he great in music. Of you people think that fashion is working hard no you rong iTS your life ie die a real fashion desginer Will say that i do it for my life. If kanye Will be a fashion desginer than goning back to school and learn Some shit from the real fashion World. I know this Because in this bitch. I for respecht for kanye he gonne lose of fashion winner of music not. fashion.

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