The rapper has attempted to break into the design industry numerous times, with varying success. His self-funded eponymous line made it on to the Paris Fashion Week runway twice, both times it received a mauling from critics ( The Telegraph ‘s Lisa Armstrong called his debut offering a ‘stupendously vacuous enterprise’).
On the other hand, he’s produced two sell-out trainer designs for Nike, the ‘Air Yeezy’ and the ‘Air Yeezy II’, the latter of which went on to reach a re-sale value of an astonishing $90,000, so high was the demand.
Most recently he’s collaborated with hip French brand A.P.C. on a tight capsule collection of basics – hoodies, jeans, T-shirts. Again, it sold out almost as soon as it became available.
But these successes aren’t good enough for Mr West. He wants to be the next Ralph Lauren, the architect of his own fashion mega-brand, as he said during his recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel. But, he just can’t get there. For some reason no one wants to invest in his self-professed “creative genius”, but why?
Well, if you go by West’s latest explanation during the aforementioned interview, it’s down to two things; celebrity and race.
The former, he claims, means that “no real designers” will work for him, and that his god-given creativity is clouded by the fact that he is, undeniably, very, very famous. It also means that the only fashion work he is offered comes in the form of “I’m a celebrity and that means my T-shirt has to cost $10.” It’s worth pointing out that his T-shirts for A.P.C. retailed for $120, so that’s not exactly true.
“Currently in fashion, in the way that fashion works, there’s no black guy at the end of the runway in Paris in all honesty,” he said of the latter reason. This, taken in its simplest form, could be seen as true. Of the multitude of brands that show in London, New York, Paris and Milan, the most prominent black figure is Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing. But taking it at face value excludes the likes of Patrick Robinson and Edward Wilkerson, who have held high-level positions at Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan, respectively.
West goes so far as to compare his struggle to break into fashion to Michael Jackson’s struggle to get his music played on MTV in the Eighties because he was a black artist.
But neither of these things really ring true when you look at West’s predicament. It seems he’s clutching at straws, trying to find reasons as to why it hasn’t worked out.
When his debut collection bombed in Paris, he failed to notice that the critics weren’t mauling him for who he was, but for what he created; ill-fitting pieces and the befuddling inclusion of fur in a spring/summer range were the main points. As one reviewer put it: “the vast quantity of luxury materials can’t blind people to a lack of creative marksmanship.”
He issued a pre-mauling statement just before the collection showed, and his main point was how much money he’d spent. “I took out motherf***ing loans to get the best models, to get the best designers, to get the best venue.”
This, it seems, has been his downfall.
Success in fashion shouldn’t come easily. It has to be worked for, not bought.
Fashion design is hard work. Those that make it have likely toiled away at college and then university, through various unpaid internships, to finally get to where they are. It’s easy to think of the lucky ones like Christopher Kane and J.W. Anderson, who have had success come to them relatively early in their careers. Equally, it’s easy to forget that for every well-known designer, there is a team of unknown, equally as talented designers behind them, working away in a studio, submitting ideas and making their creative director’s vision a reality.
On the high street side of the industry, success is too easily given to faux ‘personalities’ with no design ability (here’s looking at you, TOWIE stars), so is it really a surprise that the high fashion world is digging in its heels?
Buying his way onto the Paris Fashion Week schedule didn’t work, so let’s hope that next time he has a go he invests in something else: a little humility.