In RJ Cutler's meditative 2009 fashion documentary, The September Issue, Vogue's preeminent Editor-at-Large, Andre Leon Talley, is shown dripping in leather fringe, all six feet and six inches of his imposing frame cloaked under an audacious and signature cape, discussing exactly why he's here in fashion.
Talking a mile a minute, as is his way, the style icon proclaims his role and purpose is to have a dialogue -- a multi-sided formal discussion about style, clothes, their construction, beauty, and all that this idea encompasses.
As one of the most significant Black figures in the fashion industry today, I thought it may prove advantageous if the editor would wish to explain his rather democratic approach towards the business to its newest "would be," rapper/music producer cum designer, Kanye West.
In the wake of Mr. West's rather lopsided first showing of his womenswear line, DW by Kanye West, at Paris Fashion Week and its rather tumultuous aftereffect, it would perhaps serve the rapper well to understand that a designer's career is not a monologue. A designer's trajectory is grounded in the purpose of producing clothes that help foster conversations about style, rather than obscenities-laced soliloquies with the press. But even more, Mr. Talley could relay to the rapper and fashion world that a young designer's future within the business is made up of more than one bad review.
It is actually surprising one would have to explain anything about the fashion industry to the stylish rapper. Once voted one of Vanity Fair's Best Dressed, the outspoken and talented musician has always had a singular sartorial flare that has separated him from his contemporaries in the rap game. He has sat front row at countless Fashion Weeks before, attentive, engaged, and struck by the show set before him. Of course Mr. West's celebrity caused sheer pandemonium at times on the Les Tuileries leading up to the shows, but he always appeared sincere in his intent to be apart of the fashion industry. It never seemed forced.
The rapper looked at ease when yukking it up with Vogue Japan's editrix, Anna Dello Russo, in between shows or attending the Metropolitan Museum Gala with designer and "queen of Prep," Tory Burch, on his arm. Like a kid in a candy shop, Mr. West is always hungry to gobble up fashion know-how, discovering new designers, models, photographers, and editors to support, align himself with, and essentially learn at the feet of. He spoke humbly (which he seldom does) of his internship with American style staple, The Gap, an irksome but necessary rite of passage for any style professional hopeful, that proved Mr. West was willing to learn. Then there were of course his hugely successfully sneaker collaborations with Louis Vuitton and Nike, wherein he convinced my gullible, young generation that a thousand-dollars is a wholly acceptable fee for rubber, canvas, and laces. In other words, he had the true makings of a style influencer, a fashion great.
The prospect of his own line seemed like a natural progression in his fledgling fashion career, but the caravan of girls he sent down the Paris runway last week proved there was still much to learn. Namely fit. Polish stunner, Anja Rubik opened the show in an oversized leather jacket and pencil skirt ensemble that reminded me of Former French Vogue's EIC, Carine Roitfeld's dark, chic, and very Parisian aesthetic. Something wearable, minimalist. It worked.
Chanel Iman, supermodel and rumored girlfriend of West, came next, jutting out in hip-slug skinny leather pants that bunched up in the most, her upper-half swaddled in silk layers and a fur shrug. Fur... for spring? Eyebrows must have arched in tandem at that misstep, or over the lack of cohesion that followed. Baggy, ill-fitting blazers, bod-con bandage dresses slashed in all the wrong places, the confusing combination of lamé and zippers, and no real color palette or design story to speak of, had his A-list attendees scratching their heads.
While Kanye snagged a coup by finagling collaboration with Giuseppe Zanotti for the line's footwear, the cream beaded and fur-trimmed sling backs worn reminded me of crustaceans. They never seemed to stop growing on the model's feet. Then there was a pair of printed silk pajama pants that appeared too far too similar for comfort's sake to the very Celine pajama shirt he wore onstage at this year's Coachella Music Festival. I was left confused.
I certainly saw the influence of Rick Owens, Hervé Léger, Yohji Yamamato, and Michael Kors' last collections within his work, but where was the wardrobe Kanye would create for the woman he would date -- or in other words, where was the collection designed for his female facsimile?
Looking back at the rapper's own attire (and past relationships), I would have predicted that there would be great denim offerings, tailored blazers in eye catching shades, dynamo "power dresses" a lá Victoria Beckham or Roland Mouret to complement his own bespoke suiting, fitted moto jackets in smooth leathers, and steely eyewear to deflect the glare from looming paparazzi. I do not wish to entirely besmirch Mr. West's time in the sun, as he's attempting something other musicians have failed to do well; in fact, I wish a mentor and Creative Director would step in to push him further along. But I do feel that his demands of the fashion industry are a bit unreasonable and misguided given the actual finished product.
In his earnest, and all-too frank, post-show statement, he asks the vocal critics like The New York Time's Eric Wilson, not to demean or dismiss his collection as another celebrity-driven one-off, that he's truly passionate about this new endeavor. Carine Roitfeld and Elle's Joe Zee concede, by saying: "I'm sure he knows what he did wrong and what he did right... He tried hard, and he wants to learn," and, "If you get it all right on the first show, where do you go from here?", respectively. Polite, diplomatic, safe...after all this is business.
But I also feel Mr. West uses his celebrity to evade the usual struggles of nascent designers. Unlike any design up-and-comer, Mr. West has a huge platform from which to retort to The New York Times from, and a readied following to buy his clothes despite its critical reception. He may have taken out loans to afford his supermodel-laden shown, but he isn't struggling to pay for say, fabric, as most first-time designers are. He lunches with Hedi Slimane and digests the photographer's words of encouragements; most Parson graduates could only dream.
But where Mr. West struggles the most is of course being somewhat fascinated and distracted by the trappings of the fashion industry. Having the right editors, models, and photographers in attendance seemed to serve as markers of legitimacy for the rapper, rather than say, a proper patternmaker. Moreover, the need to show in Paris, the birthplace of couture and luxury, ultimately proved too presumptuous for the first-timer. The city itself fostered the meticulous craftsmanship of Coco Chanel, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Louis Vuitton. It is my belief that if you wish to consider yourself a contemporary of these fashion empires, the quality has to be there. A private viewing in the vein of Tom Ford's Spring 2011 collection, wherein photographers and the media were strictly prohibited save for famed lensman, Terry Richardson, seemed much more aligned with Mr. West's goals.
Coulda', woulda', shoulda', I suppose.
I will cease with the didactics and the beating of this otherwise dead horse, because what would prove fundamentally more powerful is the rapper's success next season. If coached and prodded along constructively by a fashion insider, the rapper could transform his aesthetic in the same way the Olsen twins did with their consistently luxurious line, The Row. Even more, to see a Black designer encouraged and supported by the fashion world at a high-end level would be something almost transcendent, an anomaly the industry is only now supporting with the recent appointment of Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. The French twenty-five year old head designer identifies as bi-racial and presented a debut collection of superior skill, creativity, and opulence for the long-standing French fashion house this past Fashion Week.
On Mr. West's path to reaching similar heights in his own fashion career, perhaps he could tap into the same passion that helped fuel My Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy, his 2010 universally acclaimed album. If one will recall, the rapper released this work amidst a deluge of hate stemming from "Taylor Swift Gate", a caustic interview with NBC's Today Show's, Matt Lauer, and other off-putting public rants, but no matter: the sound could not be contested. MBDTF went on to be deemed as Album of the Year in 2010 amongst all major music critics for its experimental, evocative, and polished production. It makes one wonder if Kanye needs the dissent to create.
If so, the Fall 2012 collection from DW by Kanye West will surely create a dialogue for the ages.