Did Kanye West Just Make the Runway Show Obsolete?
By taking advantage of the paparazzi’s obsession with Kim Kardashian West, Kanye circumvented the expense and vulnerability of producing a runway show. Will other designers follow?
Kim Kardashian West earlier this month. Photograph by PG-Bauer Griffin for Getty Images.
Over the past few months, questions have swarmed around the appearance (and even existence) of Season Six of Kanye West’s Yeezy line. He first skipped the usual New York Fashion Week runway show (which have frequently been lightning rods for him). Then rumors flew around Paris that someone (perhaps not West himself) would present the collection to editors and buyers in a small, invitation-only show, meaning the public would still have to wait.
Last week, Kim Kardashian-West revealed on Instagram that the beige and brown tube tops, biking shorts, sludgy-proportioned sweatshirts, clingy mock turtlenecks, and overwashed denim she’s been wearing in recent paparazzi photos were in fact pieces from the new collection. Then, this morning, she tweeted a series of photos (my favorite is "Kit Kat run"; the Kardashians famously have a particular six-step style for eating them), writing, “That’s most of the Yeezy Season 6 looks,” followed by, “Thank you Carine Roitfeld for styling Season 6 #Yeezy,” and, “And I love Calabasas for being my runway.”
In other words, over the past five weeks, Kardashian has been using her status as one of the most photographed women in the world to semi-surreptitiously reveal West’s latest collection, in a disruption of the traditional fashion show that is at once outlandishly cost-efficient—the paparazzi are going to follow and photograph Kardashian West anyways!—and carefully choreographed—styled by Carine Roitfeld. West circumvented the headache of staging a runway show—plus the inevitable criticism that the more venomous strands of the fashion industry tend to mete out to him. After years of protesting that he hasn’t been accepted in fashion’s inner ranks, he’s now suggested that the way that world vets talent may not matter.
But more significantly, he may have presented a solution to one of the industry’s biggest problems. Editors and other industry insiders have complained for a few seasons now about the overabundance of runway shows, the circus of constantly flocking from one show and season to the next. Nearly every young designer I’ve spoken to in the past year has mentioned the financial and creative burden of staging a runway show. Increasingly, consumers learn about new designers when they see the clothing on a Hadid or an A$AP Mob member, or, of course, a Kardashian, whether via Instagram or paparazzi photos. Why not cut out the middle-mannequin and bring the clothing directly to the people? It’s a little like Netflix: why limit the exposure of something only to the people who can fit into the theatre—especially when, as in West’s case, those people are often a prickly audience?
What’s confusing and painful about West’s repeated statements that he’s struggled for acceptance in the realm of high fashion is that he is so often right. He may not have invented the soft beiges, graphic-heavy athleisure, or body stockings and sweatsuit compositions that make up Yeezy—the designs show deference to earlier collections by Raf Simons, Rick Owens, and Helmut Lang, among others—but as those trends permeate high fashion’s lip-lock with streetwear, it’s important to remember that Yeezy was one of the first brands to revive them, even though they are often received tepidly by critics. Will other designers adopt this new direct-to-streetstyle format? Not everyone is married to someone with Kardashian West’s level of fame, but then, finding a suitable muse is easier than mounting a runway show. Not every designer can put on a spectacle at the level of Chanel or Rick Owens—and increasingly, why would they? When he showed the first season of Yeezy, West suggested he'd like to be the "Steve Jobs of The Gap." With this disruptive way to make Yeezy's reach even more mass, West is definitely following the Jobsian mantra to think different.