Ever since Kanye West first expressed his interest in fashion, he’s been a divisive figure in the industry, with most people claiming to either love him or hate him. Critics and editors largely panned his 2012 ready-to-wear show in Paris, which signaled defeat to everyone except, perhaps, the man himself. Unwilling to let one unfavorable attempt hold him back, he continued fighting for his place in fashion, and his most recent collection for Adidas finally seemed to hint at a promising future for Kanye-meets-fashion.
So, when I had the opportunity to speak to five of the fashion industry’s top critics, I was curious to know what they—the experts with no stake in the game—thought of Kanye’s aspirations. What I got from them all was largely unexpected, given the way the media tends to interpret most of West’s endeavors.
Scroll down to meet the 5 fashion critics and find out whether or not they think he has potential!
Alexandra Jacobs: The fashion industry is lucky to have him interested–every show he attends swivels more eyeballs to their brands. And as The New York Times's Matthew Schneier recently reported, Kanye's own show for Adidas was the most tweeted and Instagrammed of New York Fashion Week, for what that's worth–which I don't think has been fully quantified yet. But regardless of whether the clicks continue to the cash register, people will always be hungry for what Diana Vreeland used to call "pizzazz," and [as they're] lacking it in the atelier, where corporatized creative directors have largely supplanted outspoken eccentrics, they are understandably turning to popular culture. I don't see any reason why Kanye couldn't do as well as the Olsen twins, who, let's remember, had a line at Wal-Mart before starting The Row.
Eric Wilson: I think Kanye West is more than sincere—I have no doubt that he’s extremely engaged in this industry and will find a way to move forward that works. I had a lot of experience with his ready-to-wear debut early on and I think he was a victim of his own hubris. What’s most impressive about him, though, is that it hasn’t stopped him from trying something new. The Adidas collection was fascinating—it was very well received for the most part, and the media treated it as a designer price-point collection, when what [it really was] was a collaborative collection with a sportswear company. It was what it was meant to be—an accessible, approachable collection that reflected his design vision and lifestyle, but I don’t think it was the biggest design triumph. I think it was just the starting point… I’m sure he’ll persevere.
There’s plenty of room for him in this business and I think the fact that so many people come to fashion with non-fashion backgrounds and manage to succeed is great. I think the only people it’s frustrating to are those who do take a more traditional route into the business, but if you don’t adapt to what’s happening in your business than you can’t survive on your own. Popular culture has always played an enormous role in what fashion is, and the fact that so many celebrities have started fashion lines speaks to that.
Lynn Yaeger: I honestly think that Kanye West is obsessed with fashion. So, when he’s at the shows, he’s there because he loves fashion. If people start to like the clothes [he designs] I think he does have a chance of making it. The baby on Full House, who was played by twins, [well] those twins grew up to become The Row. If anyone would’ve told me that—that they would start a legitimate fashion house that everyone loves—I would have said, you’re insane! So I think that if Kanye develops as a designer and he takes it seriously—finds his niche or whatever—[he'll succeed]. I mean, who the hell knows in today’s world!
Vanessa Friedman: I think Kanye West is really brave, because he comes in for so much criticism, and he gets knocked down so many times by the fashion world—maybe not by designers but by the ‘protectors’ of the fashion world—and he gets right back up [laughs], he comes right back in, very vocally. So, power to him! I would never say never [to him being respected by the industry]. You know, I was fully prepared to be as sarcastic and cynical and mean as anybody about Victoria Beckham when she started designing. But I think she’s done a terrific job, is completely credible, has a really good business and makes very good clothes. So, I would never say never about anybody—I think her example has really taught us.
Robin Givhan: On the one hand I admire Kanye’s tenacity and what appears to be a really sincere interest in fashion. Certainly when this was all in its earlier stages, I remember him constantly coming to fashion shows in Paris and doing so in a very low-key way—you know slipping in late and sitting on the floor, because he just wanted to see the clothes. Even now when he turns up at a show, it’s relatively calm… it’s only when he’s with his wife that you get the crazy reactions. To me, his interest in fashion is sincere, whereas her interest in fashion is all about marketing Kim Kardashian.
I also admire the fact that he’s willing to go through the uncomfortable process of attempting to learn about a new business under [such a] spotlight—even if he wanted to, he couldn’t do this—and make all these mistakes—in the shadows. But he has a lot of hubris, as well. If I were to offer any advice I would just tell him: in the same way that you let your music speak for itself, let the clothes speak for themselves. There’s no need for a soliloquy to introduce the clothes, and there’s no need for a soliloquy to explain them when you feel they’ve been misunderstood.
What do you think of their opinions on Kanye West's interest in fashion? Share your thoughts in the comments!