Fashion loves a ‘moment’, but in a never-ending news cycle, how do you cut through the noise? Enter Ye and his masterful manipulation of pop culture and how we consume it
The simulation is glitching. Just a week into 2022, our latest system error came in the form of an apparently confirmed romance between Kanye West and Uncut Gems actress Julia Fox, announced via a full-fledged fashion shoot published by Interview. Obviously. Presented with sparse commentary beyond a couple of emojis and the promise of “tea” on the magazine’s social platforms, the move seemed like a direct reply to mounting speculation surrounding the rapper’s love life post-KimYe, piqued again only days before when pap photos first put this unlikely pairing together. Within seconds, these images and Fox’s accompanying diary of her first few dates with Ye flooded the newsfeed, anecdotal details reported and reposted verbatim. Though entertained, my near-radioactive level of daily exposure to the internet’s manipulation of perception made me wary of taking FoxYe (don’t, I’m trying something) at face-value with their statement that “Everything with us has been so organic.” Not even 24 hours later, the news that Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga was incoming broke and it became clear “Date Night” was part of a bigger-picture plan to create a marketing campaign around this, a modern fashion moment.
Of course, this isn’t West’s first rodeo when it comes to playing tabloid interests to promote his own interests. While paparazzi were just the appetiser to the main course in “Date Night”, 2017 saw the rapper-turned-designer drop YEEZY Season 6 through staged pap shots of then-wife and muse Kim Kardashian, using her position as one of the most followed women in the world as free ad space. Since then, the distinction between real and not has only destabilised further; the layers of contrivance in “Date Night” a reflection of this “new normal”. In 2022, the urge to “normalise” things has extended to the ubiquity of fake news and conspiracy as content, while coronavirus had the added side-effect of finally lifting the curtain on the cult of celebrity as they asked us to “Imagine” a different world from their lavish mansions when most of us were dealing with the constraints of a global pandemic without the privilege afforded to the rich and famous. Bizarre behaviour including Shawn Mendes and Camilla Cabello’s strategically-timed slow walks revealed the inner machinations behind the pageantry of celebrity while we were in the house bored. As we woke up, the industries inextricably reliant on the once-certain impact of straightforward celebrity endorsement had to adapt. Fashion, in its eternal endeavour to sell us fantasy, found ways to reach through the noise to an ever-more skeptical and social-media savvy audience searching for authenticity or, at the very least, some level of self-awareness.
Advertising campaigns have become increasingly complex in their pursuit of that elusive goal of internet-breaking engagement that virality brings. Gucci’s attempt to sell luxury watches through memes, while fresh in 2017, would simply not cut it in this landscape. The hype of streetwear collabs now manifests in luxury crossovers, while Calvin Klein’s recent Instagram takeovers leveraged the internet’s existing interest in Pete Davidson by appearing to give access to a platform otherwise inaccessible without a large social media following of his own. Yes, the livestream was obviously pre-recorded (who goes live with multiple cameras in a weirdly sterile porn shoot setting?), but even just the performance of fanservice moments like Davidson’s walk into the camera crotch-first ignites the kind of user-generated internet chatter intended by their marketing team. In the same way, FoxYe’s “Date Night” capitalises on the same Cringe Couple renaissance that made Davidson and his CK live partner Machine Gun Kelly relevant choices for that moment. Adding to a precedent set by sister-in-law Kourtney Kardashian’s #Kravis phase and fellow hot goth GF Megan Fox’s arrestingly awful “poetic” Instagram caption declarations of love for a man who unironically goes by the moniker Machine Gun Kelly, FoxYe uses the same language of obvious photo-ops and shameless visual echoes of past relationships to write their own narrative. Starved of gossip by Miss Rona, “Date Night” cleverly plays into our pervasive, voracious appetite for the messiness of Hollywood romances evidenced by the rise of the Cringe Couple. That Davidson is also Ye’s estranged wife’s apparent new beau only makes the meta-drama of it all more compelling. With the instant gratification of a guilty pleasure OK! exclusive dressed as a Tom Ford era Gucci ad (only featuring Diesel by Glenn Martens instead), “Date Night” is high camp performance art at the climax of the dramatic opera that is the KimYe divorce.
“Starved of gossip by Miss Rona, ‘Date Night’ cleverly plays into our pervasive, voracious appetite for the messiness of Hollywood romances evidenced by the rise of the Cringe Couple”
Opera is not an exaggeration. If you want further proof of Ye’s understanding of how to engineer moments that resonate through the endless white noise, look no further than divorce-era KimYe. Spanning the extremely staggered release of Donda, and the unexplained, sustained dual-donning of Balenciaga from that point on, the couple’s uncoupling has been a series of spectacles unified through their shared unofficial outfitter. Despite being separated already, Kim dutifully reprised her role as wife to re-enact her marriage in the first official public appearance of Demna’s inaugural Balenciaga Haute Couture bridal look to promote Donda. Since then she seems to have lived almost exclusively in the brand, famously subverting expectations as one of the most perceived women in the world by attending the return of the Met Gala in a faceless morphsuit t-shirt dress while Ye paired his full fits with an unnerving Halloween mask. When Julia Fox was then spotted with Kanye – also dressed in Balenciaga – at the top of the new year, the Ye-ssification of Julia Fox story wrote itself. Demna’s creative direction of Donda was evidently spilling out into IRL – the brand’s content without comment approach to fashion storytelling writ large.
Foregoing explanation, this strategy switches the audience from passive to active consumer, inviting them to fill in the blanks themselves while creating intrigue through the novelty of this premise. We, like the other players on this stage, have a role to play in the formation of fantasy. Either you can take it all at face-value and be whisked on a whirlwind romance through spontaneous flights from Miami to New York and believe the fiction that diners were thrilled to be subjected to an impromptu photoshoot in Carbone – or, you can generate the kind of organic buzz that marketing teams dream of through dissecting, proliferating, and disseminating various different interpretations through TikToks, Twitter threads, and think pieces like this. Bringing together reality TV royalty, an A24 actress and artist familiar with pouring personal pain into the public domain, and a rapper who claims God-like powers of creation in his mythmaking as Yeezus – the cast is primed to take us into the third act of this extravagant, ever-evolving, many-layered theatrical performance. Mimicking Ye’s pattern of making over the women he dates (see: a Hervé Leger-bound Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose), “Date Night” should be understood and analysed as a living artefact of a moment when fashion storytelling and the cult of celebrity collided like never before to position him at the start of a new chapter. Kanye’s masterful manipulation of pop culture and the way we consume it has us rapt with anticipation for his next move – the ultimate hype-man for what Demna describes as “a mutual drive to evolve and do something great and new.” Even if you aren’t a fan of Kanye et al – are you not entertained?