You don’t have to be a Kanye West fan to understand his approach to fashion, any more than you need to be a regular customer of the Gap to understand why the 10-year deal announced this week makes sense.
Though the details can be found on almost any major media outlet, this was all fans of the brand or the artist really needed to see:
In case you’re actually interested in purchasing Yeezy Gap, however, you should know that nothing will be available until next year and that, according to a joint press release, the collection will feature “modern, elevated basics for men, women and kids at accessible price points.”
The partnership isn’t notable simply because retailers like the Gap have bene in freefall since COVID-19 and need something special to attract consumer attention again.
I think it’s significant because it reflects the closing of the gap (pun intended) between high fashion and low via a more substantial and timely creative collaboration than we may have seen before.
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I say “substantial” because until now the majority of partnerships between brands and celebrities have been the equivalent of having a famous person’s seal of approval on on a product.
Sure, maybe Jessica Simpson really sits down at a sewing machine and makes those clothes sold under the name at Macy’s or wherever. More likely not, but even if she did, how easily could you describe her look? And do you even remember why she became famous in the first place?
Kayne West has an established track record in designing clothes (and of course, sneakers), and his foray into fashion was less of a last-ditch pivot after his initial career tanked, but an extension of his contributions to culture through music. That music is arguably as successful as ever.
At the other end of the spectrum, think about LVMH’s choice of Virgil Abloh (a longtime West friend and associate) as creative director for Louis Vuitton. This was largely an exercise in importing taste into a brand that was at risk of becoming out of date. Abloh has other outside interests too, but none that have had the impact of a Kayne West album.
As for West’s style, it’s easy to describe: a loose-fitting, relaxed confidence that’s ideal for anyone who wants to look good while perhaps doing something artistic or significant. I’ve often seen some of those T-shirts as almost an updated version of a painter’s smock, or a mad scientist’s jacket.
This is a look that feels more in tune with the current moment than any other, which is why I used the word “relevant.” Men, at least, have been trying to figure out the best way to dress when a suit is almost never necessary but a track suit could be perceived as a sort of insult.
Yeezy clothing has often offered a great balance between simplicity and comfort with stand-out moments, like this cardigan you can buy on Farfetch:
There’s just one problem: the cardigan costs $1,892.
The whole point of “fast fashion” brands like the Gap, H&M and Zara are to knock off high-end brands so the rest of us can enjoy a similar aesthetic. In most cases, though, what you end up with is only an approximation of that aesthetic.
Yeezy Gap allows everyday consumers to get something more real, which bridges the gulf both economically and stylistically.
Before you accuse Kayne West of selling out, however, consider the way he’s continuing to innovate in another area of fashion: the upcoming Yeezy Supply web site revamp, which was almost ignored amid news of the gap deal other than a great story on Fast Company:
You’ll be able to pick an outfit, then put it on a 3D model who walks across the screen. And if you want to know more about that model, you can click to get a few background details, like her favorite food, or a significant life experience she has had. There are no words on the screen. The overall aesthetic is as if a video game were set in a medical supply store. In a good way.
As of this writing, however, the Yeezy Supply site is unavailable. That’s the kind of issue you couldn’t imagine happening with a company as large as the Gap, which is another aspect of the sound thinking behind this partnership: it’s a good marriage between top creativity and highly experienced commerce.
Even if Yeezy Gap doesn’t completely turn the retailer’s fortunes around, it could redefine what we expect when a brand turns to a well-known name for inspiration and influence. It’s not enough to sign a friendly famous face. Fashion is truly changed by someone with the talent to create a “beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy” — someone, in other words, like Kayne West.