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Yeezy Season 4Photography Joshua Woods

Why Kanye’s show in the sun left some feeling cold

Putting the fashion press on buses to Roosevelt Island for another performance piece, West's latest show may well have been his most controversial yet

48 hours before his fourth Yeezy collection presentation for adidas, Kanye West gave an interview with in which he espoused his desire not to court controversy, asserted his designs as apparel rather than fashion, and cited anonymity as a primary source of inspiration. For the past three seasons, we’ve watched West purposefully hone in on an aesthetic that mines a great deal from military surplus outfitters and the abundantly (perhaps redundantly) referenced annals of designs by Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela. If West’s remarks about his collection – now an expanded partnership with adidas that is set to include performance gear and at least two standalone retail stores – sound a lot like the ideas that fuel Vetements, add the collective to the remix the producer/writer/rapper/vocalist/designer seems to be crafting for his ambitious pop genre of fashion – sorry...apparel. Or is it about styling? Or is it a uniform? Season to season, not much changes.

For SS17, West has mixed up oversized shearling hoodies and puffer parkas with ribbed leotards and thigh-skimming stiletto boots so precariously constructed they had a tendency to break beneath the models’ ankles. Bergdorf Goodman’s Bruce Pask even had to jump up on the runway to help a stranded young woman, humiliated by her boots before the eyes of the world. The colour palette was an evolving variation of stone and sand hues with a couple of looks done entirely in black (modeled by Teyana Taylor and Chanel Iman, closing the show). The takeaway was utilitarian, stoic, and aggressively bland. 

...Not that there’s anything wrong with bland. If adidas’s expanded partnership reads as anything it’s an endorsement, and it’s no surprise the brand is pulling out all the stops to stage presentations that get the fashion industry – and the internet – talking. Staged on Roosevelt Island at the Four Freedoms Park, the venue was perfect for a photo op, and Kanye West loves nothing if not those. His extended family’s empire was built on a series of them, for crying out loud. Several attendees were sporting Kanye West concert tees featuring a blown up Instagram of Kim Kardashian looking like an avatar, playing tennis in paradise. The invite for the show was reported to be a pair of adidas track pants featuring the word “Calabasas” embroidered on the side (mine must have gotten lost in the mail.) If only the Yeezy range contained some of this idiosyncratic, self-aware humor. Instead, West stuck to his established philosophy with anodyne, elevated basics. If West’s music is an acid trip (occasionally mixed with angeldust, crack, and PCP) his fashion designs are more like a giant bottle of Xanax. These are the type of pieces, West says, that look good on his friends in the Valley. 

The problem is that we had to go all the way to the Valley to see the collection, or at least that’s how it felt. It would be absurd not to point out the buffoonery of the event’s organisation and execution which resulted in more than an hour spent on shuttles in crosstown traffic, hours more standing in claustrophobic lines in the blazing sun, and even a few aggressive (and at times physical) encounters between staid members of the fashion press and the security team who were guarding the venue like it was housing the Dead Sea Scrolls. That actually would have been wishful thinking. Instead, guests were greeted with yet another Vanessa Beecroft “performance,” featuring several dozen nearly nude young women standing in lines, cast by Noah Shelley. West’s collaboration with Beecroft seems to have become standard uniform, much like his collections. The first of these to be staged in the midday sun for hours, SS17’s formation resulted in several of the women having to sit down from exhaustion. On top of that, when models fainted, WWD reports that they were not initially helped by West’s team. Confused, some spectators thought this was part of the performance. It was like a social experiment gone wrong.

“On the heels of a few successful seasons establishing himself as a legitimate player in the apparel business, Kanye West seems to be at a crossroads when it comes to his own ambitions”

Coming on the heels of a few successful seasons establishing himself as a legitimate player in the apparel business, Kanye West seems to be at a crossroads when it comes to his own ambitions. The Yeezy 4 show felt like a breaking point for the high-minded (and, at times, overly precious) fashion industry West has spent so much time, energy, and breath trying to captivate and wear down. His Yeezy 3 show, staged at Madison Square Garden, was his biggest statement yet and his most successful. It featured an album listening party, there was alcohol, and like previous seasons, it streamed live to cinemas across the world, allowing fans to watch from their city. This season, West chose to broadcast the entire show exclusively on Tidal, the smaller and more delusional rival to popular streaming platforms Apple Music and Spotify. 

There is something brilliant about Kanye West and his competing obsessions with high art and commercial accessibility. Simultaneous to his Yeezy show, he’s performing (sans Beecroft) multiple nights at Madison Square Garden on a stage that has been hailed by pop critics as a progressive and innovative feat of creativity and engineering. The genesis of that design came from West’s enduring goal to democratise that which has been deemed elite...even a stage! Perhaps it’s time that Yeezy shows are held as events exclusively for Kanye West fans. The models may be the ones collapsing, but it seems that luxury fashion insiders are also exhausted of schlepping to outrageous venues to see the same collection in slightly different shades of dust. In his conversation with, Kanye stated, "I’m not saying this is a fashion proposition. I’m saying it’s a human proposition." Maybe it’s time to consider the fashion element less, and the human element a little bit more.