The fast food restaurant is West’s favourite brand – but what does that reveal about his proposition for clothing?
Kanye West’s favourite brand is McDonald’s. Not Louis Vuitton, for which he designed a range of sneakers; not Balmain, where he recently teamed up with designer friend Olivier Rousteing on a music video fashion campaign; and not even adidas, despite having worked together on four Yeezy collections. McDonald’s. With its glowing golden arches a signifier so ingrained in late-capitalist culture that they are, quite literally, more famous than the Christian cross, it’s without doubt the most ubiquitous, most recognisable brand across the globe, serving 68 million customers daily – or one in every 105 people.
West’s choice of the such a mass market entity is telling, and it’s especially interesting when considered in tangent with his vision for Yeezy, which had its controversial fourth show on Wednesday. By now, you’ll be familiar with stories of editors waiting hours, or models who couldn’t stand the heat of the sun or make it all the way down the runway because of their broken shoes (some of which West has since addressed). But beyond the story of Yeezy: the show, or Yeezy: the spectacle, is the one of Yeezy: the clothes.
Around eight weeks after Yeezy Season 3 debuted in Madison Square Garden, a major fast fashion retailer hosted their press day, an occasion where company reps walk journalists through the new collections. There on the menswear rail was Yeezy – the earthy hues, the military influences, the oversized sweatshirts and shorts – only it wasn’t. This was Yeezy as interpreted by the high street, Yeezy remade and remarketed for an audience who expect to pay £20 for a t-shirt, not £150. Of course, the retailer wasn’t calling it a Kanye-inspired collection, but the influence was as obvious as a sponsored celeb Instagram endorsement.
Look around at any menswear shop floor catering for anyone from their teens to their thirties, and it’s immediately apparent that the store behind that press day weren’t the only ones influenced by West. A wander through Zara or Urban Outfitters reveals the same results – washed streetwear basics, camo, an air of the utilitarian. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, not least by West himself – before Wednesday’s show, Vogue released an interview where he declared Zara’s robbery of the Season 2 colour palettes to be “the biggest compliment we could have had”. Imitation is clearly flattery for West, who has been open about the bricolage of designers (Helmut Lang, Margiela, Raf Simons) present in his own work. To be copied by Zara implies both the influence and the desirability of a design.
So what does this have to do with McDonald’s? West’s clothes aren’t as cheap or accessible as a 99p hamburger, but he has been open from the beginning about a desire for his fashion to be democratic in a similar way – wanting to get adidas to make a $30 trainer that everyone can afford, for instance. In fact, Kanye prefers to use the term apparel rather than fashion, declaring his vision to be a “human proposition” rather than a “fashion one”. Fashion, after all, implies an industry, ideas of structure, system, and elitism – and arguably, it was those intimately involved with this type of fashion who had a problem with his latest show. Of course, the opinions of those people matter – but they might not come to the mind of everyone who saves up for a pair of Yeezy Boosts. It’s worth noting that it wasn’t the latest show’s tired models or the impossible heels that Yeezy fans took issue with – some were more put out that there was no menswear or real sneaker offering.
“West’s clothes aren’t as cheap or accessible as a 99p hamburger, but he has been open from the beginning about a desire for his fashion to be democratic in a similar way”
And while West’s ready-to-wear has reportedly been troubled by production issues (only one collection of clothing has been released so far), footwear is where it has flourished, and where it has had the most mass appeal. Yeezy trainers have been huge sell out successes, with the Boost picking up a shoe of the year award. With a pricepoint that’s more palatable to consumers, sneakers are to Yeezy what fragrance is to a fashion house – but even more in demand, even more coveted. That idea of the human proposition discussed in the Vogue interview is one supported by adidas, which together with West will expand into (likely lower cost, and therefore more profitable) sportswear and accessories and open Yeezy stores (200 in the next year is West’s dream).
As Patrik Sandberg noted, reporting on Season 4 for Dazed, it’s the fans, like those who turned up to Kanye’s Madison Square Garden show, who West should be presenting for, not the critics. It’s not surprising that they’re bored by basic ‘apparel’ when they’ve spent the last 20 years understanding the concepts and complexities of Comme des Garçons. Yeezy is not high fashion in the same way that McDonald’s is not fine dining – it may be showing during New York Fashion Week and it may cost more than is affordable for most, but when it comes to the clothes, it’s proposing something else. And that something does have the potential for the mass appeal West says will follow soon, should prices be more in line with the average consumer.
When it comes to music, West is a ruthless perfectionist, but with fashion, it seems he’s still on that “creative journey”, searching for that magic formula, the one a brand like McDonald’s has nailed – arguably, that’s why his collections aren’t radically different. When he finds it though, he could well create clothes that will actually be adopted by the masses – and against a backdrop of polished campaign ads selling a constantly refreshed vision of aspiration and luxury, that really does feel like a new proposition.