On Thursday, Kanye West will present his Yeezy Season 3 collection, a fashion show that will double as the world premiere of his new album The Life Of Pablo (formerly Waves and Swish), at Madison Square Garden.
If the clothes are anything like the first two seasons, which are part of West’s reported $10 million deal with Adidas, it’s safe to assume there will be plenty of urban and athletic silhouettes -- an array of oversized hooded sweatshirts, sweatpants and coats in a palette of earth tones. And if the show itself is anything like the first two seasons, it will be celebrity-saturated. Lorde, Jaden Smith, Drake, Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs and a who’s who of designers, including Alexander Wang and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, have all punctuated past front rows.
Though many critics have yet to accept West as a serious contender within the design world, there is no denying the brand's success within the retail space (the debut Yeezy Boost 350’s, priced at $350, sold out in 12 minutes in the U.S. and then fetched upward of $6,000 on eBay). But it's not West's designs that could potentially have a lasting effect on the fashion industry, so much as the revolutionary framework he is setting into motion with this week’s show.
Yeezy Season 3, which will be streamed in 700 theaters across 23 different countries, marks the first time that tickets to a New York Fashion Week show will have ever been purchasable by the general public (prices ranged from $50-135 and sold out in 10 minutes, according to West's tweets) and the setup goes entirely against the exclusivity that fashion shows have maintained for buyers and editors since their inception in the early 20th century. Though things like live streaming and behind-the-scenes Instagrams have made fashion week experiences more inclusive, fans themselves have never been allowed to buy access to seats.
"I think public access to fashion shows is only increasing," Vogue contributing editor Andre Leon Talley notes. "And [Kanye] has his own way of creating change, maybe it’s his moment for MSG and the consumer. Beyonce created the moment this weekend with that video. They're both cultural spokespeople through artistry."
In recent seasons, notable designers have begun inching closer to their fans. Marc Jacobs had models parade outside of his Ziegfeld Theatre-staged show in September, and last week Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne had models march around the block for a group of fashion students and Instagram followers before entering the official venue. But literally banking on the public’s interest? West will be the first, and the move comes at a moment when the fashion industry’s infrastructure is being challenged by the digital era's relentless pace.
Last week, for example, Burberry announced plans to radically change the way it interacts with the people who purchase their clothes. Rather than show ready-to-wear collections six months in advance of their in-store availability, the British label will show immediately buyable, seasonless men’s and women’s collections together on the runway twice a year. On Friday, Tom Ford announced that he would be doing the same, stating that “we have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era.”
"The traditional fashion show model is currently in a tremendous state of reinvention," explains Ken Downing, the senior vice president and Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus. "Technology, driven by the enormity of social media that covers the fashion industry continues to reshape our ideas of how we look at the runway and presentations today."
Though Yeezy Season 3 won't be instantly shoppable, it is part of a larger movement that is looking to energize the consumer by bringing them into the experience. West is including his consumer in the most literal way through ticket access, and in the process, he might be tampering with what fashion consultant Julie Gilhart calls "fashion tied to emotion of the moment" -- purchases more readily made because of their emotional connection and closeness.
"Designers and creators want to communicate and connect with their end consumer directly, not only through a clothing rack," says Mazdack Rassi, the creative director and co-founder of Made Fashion Week and Milk Studios. "Consumers and designers rely on each other for identity and creativity. And that's one of the most beautiful parts of art and fashion."
In the same way ticket sales for live shows have remained reliable sources of income for musicians, one day audiences might be able to do the same for fashion houses on a smaller but still impactful scale. No designer has the fandom of the Grammy Award-winning West -- even industry visionaries like Karl Lagerfeld and Raf Simons couldn’t sell out 20,000-person arenas. But a ticket to their shows? There are scores of people who would want in, and as overall sales in the multi-billion-dollar industry continue to slip, one can't help but think West might just be on to something.
2/11/2016 by Brooke Mazurek
It looked like the top of a chocolate soufflé at first, the parachute fabric that puffed into the shape of a dome and spread across the floor of Madison Square Garden as the nearly 20,000 guests trickled in for Kanye West's Yeezy Season 3 event -- arguably this season’s most anticipated New York Fashion Week show. It was evident from the moment it began that the show would channel the sort of scale that Parisian fashion houses like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Chanel are known for (Karl Lagerfeld, for example, transformed the Grand Palais into a flight terminal for his spring collection in September). But ultimately, it was hard to compare the event to any other fashion show that has come before it.
Fashion editors were present: personal shout-outs to Anna Wintour (“I told [her] backstage a dream of mine is to be the creative director of Hermes for a few years”) and Carine Roitfeld (“Thank you for being a real bitch, I appreciate you”) were made. Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, who designed the pink and white attire the Kardashians wore on Thursday, was thanked -- and there were plenty of fashion fans who waited outside and never got in. “I’m here for the clothes, definitely the clothes,” said a teen dressed in Yeezy Boost 350’s who had waited for two hours in 24-degree weather.
But if you stripped away the music (which happened to be from West’s next album, The Life of Pablo), took away the cups of Budweiser, the cameo by Naomi Campbell and tuned out the moment when the crowd broke into a “F--- Nike” chant, there was the somberness of what appeared when that brown parachute fabric was pulled away.
Enlisting the help of contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft, West used the stage to re-create the 1995 Paul Lowe photograph that was taken during the Rwandan genocide. Men and women, both models and extras, were separated and raised atop two parallel platforms -- all wearing looks from the new collection. And as the camera panned across the mostly nude, merlot and marigold-hued hoodies, coats, bralets and trousers, the models’ faces and demeanor projected brokenness.
It was hard to truly absorb it all, and West never acknowledged the heaviness of the subject, focusing instead on celebrating the album and the clothes. “You know, I think y’all might think that because I’m a celebrity and I rap that this shit is easy to do,” he told the crowd. “But one of the hardest things to do was to get the talented people that worked on the collection to believe in my vision. I want to thank Adidas for paying for this and supporting me.”
Many critics have expressed their distaste for West’s sartorial endeavors. This season’s collection introduced some new pieces (a cropped bomber, lucite-heeled boots) but closely resembled seasons one and two. And while the rapper has been vocal about his desire to join the ranks of fashion’s most prolific figures, the Yeezy show-meets-listening session-meets-performance art digressed from the medium in a more overtly commercial way when West began spotlighting his upcoming video game (which depicts a cartoon version of his late mother Donda, ascending to heaven).
“If you're gonna be an artist, you gotta do what’s in your heart. Fight for your dream. I mean, [I made] the number one shoe,” he said, referencing the Yeezy sneaker before showing the video game snippet once more. “The number one christmas present.” In the end, it wasn't much of a fashion show, but it certainly was a spectacle.