It's only correct to start this review by saying I'm biased. I work with Kanye West and have done so for a few years now. I choose to because I am excited by his music, his vision, his audacity, his courage and his feelings towards humanity. It's a big statement I know, but at the core of nearly every idea I have discussed with him there is a profound desire to make things better for people. I respect him for that alone. It's a rare trait.
I went to New York to see a Yeezy show and to more fully understand his vision.
Last week in New York snow blizzards ravaged the city. I have particular memories of New York in the winter from shooting videos for Lady Gaga, freezing winds blowing through the streets. It was still freezing as I walked to the venue at Pier 59 but I was both excited and nervous and the cold just seemed to be part of the whole experience. I could imagine the same freezing wind blew down the streets of Chicago as Kanye walked to school.
I had a brief moment of being crushed in the queue to get to the show but it was possibly one of the most attractive and elegant queues. Demna and Guram Gvasalia from Vetements, Off-White’s Virgil Abloh, and the most extraordinarily beautiful star of Kanye's Fade video, Teyana Taylor, all surrounded me. We then moved into a very dark and warm room. In front of me - only about 10 feet away - towered a massive black box, probably 30-feet tall.
Next to me in the darkness, the photographer Steven Klein and his tiny baby watched Bambi on Stevens' iPhone, which, knowing Kanye's huge love of Walt Disney, again all seemed a correct and fitting part of this experience. It wasn't long before the show started. And of course, right from the beginning Kanye turned everything about a fashion show on its head.
The black monolith became a massive projection screen which played a film of the models rotating round on turntables, towering up over us. With this simple device Kanye turned the fashion show upside down - not only were we seeing a look book, something that traditionally comes after the show, we were being shown a fashion film, something that calls into question the need to have a physical show in the first place and a debate that has been raging on in fashion since we live broadcasted Lee McQueen’s 'Plato’s Atlantis' show on SHOWstudio in 2009. The effect on the audience was to change our physical relationship with the clothes and, much in the same way McQueen did with the mirrored cubes at his S/S 01 show 'Voss', it left the audience looking up in awe at these colossal images, our own physicality suddenly changed from being the critics and judges, to being its servants, tiny and almost insignificant.
I wonder how much one should try and read into these moments of brilliant fashion theatre. To what extent was Kanye dressing down his critics for so frequently misunderstanding his clothes? For missing the incredible colour palettes Kanye uses and so regularly missing the appropriate vocabulary to actually explain his vision? Or for failing to see what is probably the most modern casting for a fashion show.
Like 'Voss', which confronted us all with the duality of our own vanity and our own perverse voyeurism, I am not sure either designer knew in advance the strength these simple presentational tricks would have. However, what I am convinced about (and in part because Kanye confirmed it to me at supper later that night) is that the effect of presenting a human figure at this extreme angle changes the proportions of the fashion itself. Not only does it suggest a new silhouette, in long simple legs topped with a lot of detail and form in the highest part of the figure, but it presents a new shape. It looks like the proportions of a great fashion illustration, where the head is tiny (fitting at least 11 times into the body) and the body and limbs are extremely elongated. Coincidentally, it shows the same proportions that I used for all the imagery I created under John Galliano's tutorship in the 10 years I photographed his clothes at the house of Christian Dior.
This Yeezy collection was exactly right for now, not for last season, not for next season but for right now. It couldn't have felt more accurate in timing. Fashion is a predictive art form and this prediction was incredibly well focused and aimed at this moment. If we are talking about being able to buy from the catwalk then that acceleration of desire is crucial. If I felt I needed more proof, the fact that while the show was still happening I was receiving texts from my son about wanting Calabasas red jogging pants and Calabasas tops gave me exactly this. Instantly desirable clothing is what Kanye showed to his fans and for his critics he gave a gently theatrical reminder of his position as possibly one of the most relevant fashion designers today.