From hip-hop to film to fashion to art to design to fashion and back to hip hop. Kanye West is a man not afraid of the unknown. Over the course of his career, one thing has become clear – expect the unexpected.
It’s now approaching two weeks since West’s ready-to-wear collaboration with renowned Parisian boutique A.P.C. was quietly released to the world, selling out faster than most potential buyers could ‘add to cart’. To write an article now might seem a bit unnecessary, but it’s also true that West is followed by criticism and polarisation wherever he goes, and it seemed sensible to let the dust settle before addressing heated opinions for fear of getting burned.
The release, comprising eight items from sweatshirts to denim, has received a lot of flack for being ‘uninteresting’ in the words of many. For some, understated pieces like the ‘hip hop’ t-shirt and ‘Kanye’ jeans signified the apex of one man’s arrogance, whilst others were critical of the artist for not being innovative enough in his designs. Familiar cries of ‘€80 for a t-shirt!’ echoed through our screens, mixing and blending with the various scoffing and ahhing that has framed almost every output by West, but as for myself?
Well, needless to say, I failed to get close to owning any of the pieces, but the discussions and critiques set off a few fuses inside me and it seemed like time to chip two cents in. I know, I know, you’re welcome.
Firstly, it’s important to address criticisms of the collection as lazy and unimaginative. Yes, it could be argued that plain t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts are not exactly groundbreaking creations, but then A.P.C.’s own mainline output has never been intended to be as such. Their product range is one of simple, classic pieces, renovated for the present day and minimalist in their rendition. Kanye West expressed in a recent interview with W magazine his desire to travel around, absorbing disciplines from various designers and fashion houses to inspire and create his own unique aesthetic. This being considered, it’s unlikely that it was ever West’s intention to walk into the A.P.C. studios and burn all the books – rather, he was there to take notes from a brand that is celebrated for doing what it does, and this collaboration allowed him to be a part of that without having to abandon his own Modus Operandi.
Following on from this, it’s worth considering the brains behind A.P.C. Though founder Jean Touitou might not have quite the same headline-grabbing magnetism of West, he is notoriously outspoken on political and social issues in his native France – the man really didn’t like Sarkozy or any of the Bourgeoisie, this much I know. West’s own career has been interspersed by unapologetic outbursts of ‘how it really is’; telling the nation that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people; telling the nation that Taylor Swift’s music video was trash and how much better Beyoncé’s was; telling his white, middle-class audiences how angry it makes him that the very people he was trying to speak to can’t afford to attend his shows. I can’t think of many more exciting things than the notion of two bold, opinionated and creative forces colliding in one studio. Perhaps West learnt not only disciplines in his design, but ways of channeling the raw emotion that runs through his work with more precision and focus.
This, in turn, brings us back to his previous catwalk offerings. Many will remember how West’s “Dw by Kanye West” collection was met with lukewarm response in early 2012, the designer receiving criticism for over-ambitious offerings that seemed unfocused and contrived. West admitted to W Magazine that he ‘tried to come out of the gate going crazy. And it didn’t work. So now I have to somehow put out something that says, ‘I look sensible!’ This being considered, the collection seems less like laziness on West’s part and more like a man demonstrating that not only can he keep things simple, but also that he can work within the discipline of another creative and still produce something distinctly ‘Kanye’.
Furthermore, criticisms of laziness are pretty unfounded in the grand scheme of things. It’s one thing to employ some critical thinking to West’s collection, but it’s also important to consider other examples to try and gain a bit of perspective. Many will remember A.P.C.’s collaboration with Supreme a few years back, consisting of two printed t-shirts and a pair of New Standard jeans with some embroidery on the rear – hardly something to make the ground shake. Let’s not be mistaken, the collaboration also received considerable flack from individuals upon release, but neither brand received the same concentrated attacks that West received as an individual for this release. Brands are faceless, while an individual like West, outspoken and unshielded, makes a wonderful target for some good ol’ fashioned e-scolding.
Furthermore, people have solely attacked West for the collaboration, relentlessly at that, failing to consider the very crux of what a collaboration is – a collaborative effort. A.P.C. surely entered into this project with just as many hopes of absorbing from West, and there would have been just as many people providing input from the A.P.C. side as Kanye. After all, this was not only an opportunity for West to play with the A.P.C. aesthetic, but also a chance for West to bless the brand with healthy splashings of Yeezus. I wonder if many of the detractors even looked at the cut-off hoodie. Seriously, that is WILD for A.P.C., not to mention the cut of those jeans. Better still, a Been Trill t-shirt? From the Atelier de Production et Creation? I bet they pissed diamonds when he announced that design.
Finally, there is the simple issue of the fierce antipathy that West receives wherever it is that he chooses to go. I, myself, have been guilty of throwing zealous anger at the man for having the audacity to waltz so comfortably between industries and interests, but it was only when I slowed down to put it all in perspective that I realised how misguided this was. Countless celebrities from all corners of the industry have stepped their foot from one area into fashion or vice versa, whether it’s the Olsen Twins, Kate Moss, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Jay-Z or Victoria Beckham (and David, for that matter). It’s true that a few of them have had bumpy rides, but the level of venom with which people attack Kanye West is truly next level. After some consideration on the conflicting interests, I decided it was fair to come to this conclusion – if the Olsen twins are allowed in, I don’t see who has the right to tell Kanye to sit on the bench.
In conclusion, the A.P.C. Kanye collection left us with a lot to dwell on. If his runway collections were outlandish and dishevelled, then this one is surely a focused release that allows his fans to take away a piece of Kanye that is both flexible and high-quality. ‘The Hip Hop T-Shirt’ is the self-proclaimed face of the genre reminding us all one again who rightly deserves to declare that ‘I am Hip Hop’, and as for the Kanye jeans? Hell, you’ve been talking about his style for long enough, placing the man at the centre of each sartorial article, that he might as well just call them Kanye. You made him a God, he’s just giving you what you wanted.
West has necessarily had to blow his own trumpet, competing against a fanfare that wishes to silence his genuine passion in a sea that is awash with illegitimacy – Katy Perry can be the face for Diesel jeans, but this guy can’t make a t-shirt. Seriously, think about it.
Unfortunately, attempts to muffle him have only made him louder. The problem is that he’s now got respected figures like Joseph Dirand and Jean Touitou shuffling up the bench to make room. Who’s next?