Jarring. That’s really the only apt descriptor for the evening I experienced on Feb. 11, 2016.
The city of Ypsilanti is a far cry from New York. A Midwestern sprawl, it's the antithesis of everything New York represents as a city. And yet, here I was — posted up in the town’s local IMAX theater, anxiously awaiting a stream of Kanye West unveiling The Life of Pablo and Yeezy Season 3 at Madison Square Garden.
I was clearly far removed from the Fashion Week travails of New York, but I was still surrounded by levels of hype that might make one think otherwise. The absurdity of the situation sort of left me feeling like some side character in a hypebeast-laden episode of “Seinfeld” (in an alternate reality where “Seinfeld” is still on TV, Jerry sports Yeezy Boosts instead of Nike Airs and Kramer always laments his inability to purchase “fire jawnz”).
Swaths of people overtook an awkward corner in the theater, a space a lot of them likely wouldn’t occupy if it weren’t for an event cobbled together by their self-appointed cultural idol. People were slapping hands, commiserating over their mutual fascination of what was about to unfold. Shoes were being compared, outfits were being complimented. The occasional streetwear meme was screamed out by a suburban teenager wearing fake Yeezys and a Champion hoodie. It was clear that Ypsi’s Rave Cinemas wasn’t used to being a hotbed for such commotion — or such clientele.
Everyone patiently waiting in line for the showing aesthetically blended together. Audience wardrobes were fairly limited in their color palette (myself embarrassingly included). Save for the occasional candy-apple red Air Max or absurdly loud Supreme jacket, desert brown, olive green and black seemed like the only colors that people felt were appropriate to wear — a fitting homage to the subject of the show, perhaps. It was clear that attendees sought to gussy themselves up in their best streetwear outfits, akin to a suburban family wearing their nicest clothing to Easter mass. Collectively, it felt like I was in the middle of an amalgamation of street style caricatures more than anything else.
When the stream began, it was obvious that my theater wasn’t an isolated case. A camera panned over a packed Madison Square Garden, displaying a similar demographic of people, all of them with bizarre, concurrent expressions of excitement and shock on their faces. It was clear that the public bought into Kanye’s hype over this event, both in New York and around the world. My MSG counterparts spent hundreds of dollars on seats, commemorative jackets and sweatshirts, and the opportunity to be distantly graced with the presence of the esteemed creative. West claimed there were 20,000 individuals present. I believe it. In addition to that impressive number, people like myself were also streaming the event at multiplexes across the globe. People paid to watch West’s extravaganza of his fashion, music and miscellaneous creative visions. I paid to watch this. Fascinating.
The clothes conveyed well-crafted symbolism thanks to Vanessa Beecroft, an artist and creative that frequently works with Kanye West. Models were carefully placed on towering platforms in the pit of the venue. The scene was reminiscent of the sobering images of Rwandan refugees Kanye had chosen to display on invites to the event. Whether or not it was intentional, considering today’s global political climate, MSG felt culturally topical that night.
West’s latest collection was a definitive continuation of the aesthetic he has so carefully crafted in past seasons. Models were largely wearing stretchy leggings, over-sized sweatshirts and shearling coats, in addition to the notorious Adidas-manufactured sneakers and boots. Save for some of the more creative outerwear and refreshed footwear, much of the collection was fairly basic. It did its fundamental job as “clothing.” It was wearable. The large reliance on technical fabrics falls in line with today’s continuing trend of “athleisure” clothing. The color palette of cocoa brown, wine red and burnt turmeric was a nice change of pace. Everything was fine. Kanye didn’t really fuck up, so he can find solace in that. Outside of that, though, there really isn’t much else to be said.
Sure, West has a passion for fashion. Whether this passion is as evident in his clothes as he thinks is something I’m unsure of, though. If anything, West’s passion is rooted in his ability to use fashion as a vehicle for communicating his thoughts and visions. His clothes give outsiders a look into his mind, into his emotions and his creative process. And while that’s all fine and dandy (and definitely something he does far better than some of fashion’s old guard), for all the noise Kanye and his Yeezy collections make, unlike West’s own psyche, the clothes leave little to be remembered.
Don’t get me wrong; the outerwear is solid, and the hype the footwear garners is fairly merited. There’s a turtleneck that I’ll probably (and unabashedly) try my hardest to purchase, even if it means setting an alarm and waking up hours earlier than usual to make it happen. But considering that parroting “Kanye is only just getting into the game! Kanye needs his time to develop!” was how fans tried to calm critics of his first two collections, one would rationally expect a more substantial progression in the Yeezy aesthetic. Here, we are left with a lot of the same of what we’ve already seen, bar a color palette update. Sometimes, I think Kanye is only dedicated to his clothes as a means of furthering his brand image and identity. Sometimes, I don’t know.
Whatever the industry and supposed “critics” like myself want to think, long lines meandered around the event’s merchandise stands at Madison Square Garden. Four friends and I paid $35 to see the event, as did thousands of others. People paid attention to what West had to say. Objectively speaking, we wasted a Thursday evening listening to soon-to-be-released music, watching emotionless models unveil expensive clothing, hearing a mad creative speak his mind.
Speaking personally, we had a memorable cultural experience on the graces of one of our favorite artists. If West pulls a similar stunt for Season 4, I can see myself indulging again. Why? I can’t succinctly say. West has a mystique next to none, not only on the hip hop scene, but the creative scene as a whole. The man, and his various rambling, muddied rants, has a charm, well beyond the music he makes. Though West’s clothes don’t really have the merit he strives for, his various creative pursuits still leave me artistically satiated and well-entertained. In the end, I guess that’s all I really want.