New York Fashion Week may not begin until next Thursday, but as far as Kanye West is concerned, it has already started. He’s not on the official schedule, but this week he made his presence known nonetheless.
Well, he does like to be first.
He, or some of his much-followed famous friends/collaborators, released a surprise series of pictures on their Instagram feeds featuring themselves in his Yeezy Season 6 collection, just in time to catch the attention of the see now/buy now crowd. But they weren’t just any old pictures.
They were recreations of photos that had accompanied the initial debut of the collection, which rolled out late last year after Mr. West had skipped fashion week following a will-he-or-won’t-he dance with the schedule. Instead, he created a virtual lookbook for the line with faux paparazzi shots of his wife, Kim Kardashian West, in his clothes: snapped as if unaware, getting into her car, sucking a lollipop, exiting a store and so on.
In itself, that was a clever piece of marketing and self-aware cultural commentary, but this week’s photos take the campaign to a whole new level: recreating the original pictures, but with women like Paris Hilton, Sarah Snyder (best known as Jaden Smith’s ex-girlfriend) and Sami Miro (ex-Zac Efron) all dressed up as Kim-a-likes, complete with long platinum wigs. It’s very meta. The internet went into the predicable ecstatic meltdown: Genius! Brilliant! And so on.
While I usually roll my eyes at this kind of Pavlovian drool, I have to say: This time I agree with the crowd. It’s the most successful thing Mr. West has ever done in fashion.
Not so much because of the clothes, which look like pretty standard athleisure gear (crop tops and sweats and bike shorts and bomber jackets), but because it has the one element that has always been lacking in Mr. West’s myriad attempts to transform himself into a credible style guru: humor.
Ever since he introduced his first eponymous line in Paris in October 2011 (remember that?), his shows have been marked, largely, by bombast, pretentiousness and overwhelming self-seriousness. There was, for example, the time in Paris when he sent what Vogue called “gothic go-karts” speeding out for his finale. Then, after he repositioned himself as Yeezy in New York, there was the Madison Square Garden extravaganza at which he announced that he was ready to be the creative director of Hermès.
Not to mention the Roosevelt Island fiasco when he dragged everyone out to Four Freedoms Park, kept them waiting in the stifling heat for hours, and then treated them to the sight of models fainting in the sun and unable to walk the runway in their stiletto boots. Or his tendency to schedule his shows at the same time as some other designer’s show, forcing attendees to choose between them.
In each case the actual clothes on the catwalk could not live up to the expectations created by the venue and presentation. They just weren’t original or alluring enough on their own.
By February 2017, he was slightly cowed but still held his presentation before an enormous screen on which images of his collection towered over the actual people on the catwalk. It was a metaphor for his approach to the industry.
But perhaps not anymore.
Admittedly, it’s possible the Kim-clones series is actually a statement that, as far as Mr. West is concerned, he and his wife are the dominating forces in the pop culture landscape — proof positive that it’s a Kimye world, and we just live in it. Maybe he’s not really poking fun at the whole celebrity-fashion circus, and his own role in it: He’s exposing it! You want to buy a piece of him and his lifestyle by buying his products? Well, let’s just call it like it is.
Chances are, given the ego involved, that’s part of it. But it’s still almost impossible not to look at the images and laugh. They are knowing, in the best way — in the way that travels most effectively via social media and the digital highway. And for that Mr. West deserves credit.
There’s a lot of talk in fashion about direct-to-consumer marketing and how designers can use the internet and the end of shows and how the system doesn’t work; a lot of talk of how everyone is experimenting with different ways to communicate — fashion films! exhibitions! parties! There’s a lot of chopping and changing, and rarely has any of it seemed like a truly successful alternative to the traditional show.
As far as Mr. West and what he makes is concerned, however, I think he may have found it. The medium fits his message (to redesign a phrase from Marshall McLuhan) in a way the classic catwalk format never did. Would-be disrupters might pay attention.
Now what I want to know is: Are they going to sell the wigs, too?