This story was assigned shortly before Kanye West was admitted to the hospital Nov. 22 for what was to be a week-plus stay for some sort of mental breakdown, capping off what had already been an incredibly dramatic year with another very dramatic, and by all accounts serious, incident. It cast a different light on the events leading up to it, including two massive fashion shows for West’s Yeezy Adidas collection. Calling him crazy has new meaning and seems a bit cruel at this point, but that was the descriptor favored by members of the industry who bore witness to either show.
Both were wildly ambitious fashion week aberrations, the first staged in February at Madison Square Garden, where West showed his Yeezy Season 3 collection and played his new album “The Life of Pablo” for the first time before fashion and music press, as well as thousands of ticket-holding members of the public. They stood in line to buy West’s tour merch that would later drive runs on a slew of global Pablo pop-up shops. The floor of the Garden was filled with hundreds of models milling about in a scene reminiscent of a refugee camp, while the actual collection was shown on models elevated on platforms arranged in one of Vanessa Beecroft’s artistic military formations. West’s grand scheme message was unclear, but there was no denying the visual impact of so many people in such a setting. It made for an audacious exercise in strange creativity.
“It’s my dream for at least a couple years to be the creative director of Hermès,” West said at one point. Toward the end of the show, he teased a video game based on his late mother’s arrival in Heaven. “That’s not easy to do, man,” said West. “You all acting like this s–t is regular.” It wasn’t regular; it was crazy. But in a relatively good way.
Seven months later, things were not good. As New York Fashion Week approached in September and the calendar was released, Yeezy was not listed, although everyone knew a show was coming. The question was when and where, and while speculation swirled, it remained unanswered in any official capacity until the morning of the actual show when Adidas alerted its guest list via e-mail that they should plan to be on Roosevelt Island that afternoon for a 3 p.m. show that finally started around 4:30. What happened then has been well documented. The sun blistered, models collapsed, staff occasionally lobbed a bottle of water to one of the faint girls, but did little else. Everyone watched. The Kardashians applauded at the end. The clothes? They were entirely beside the point.
Forget the fact that he inconvenienced the editors and retailers who trekked to Roosevelt Island. He made them wait and sweat. His above-the-rules attitude and dismissal of the protocol and planning that goes into a giant industry event affected not just those who attended his show, but a handful of small designers who had taken stakes on the schedule at the same time, investing their limited resources to be blithely steamrolled by West. Then there were his models, many of them kids cast from the street, who were left to wither in the heat with no reaction from the staff. It was a question of responsibility. Who was in charge? Who had the authority to say, ‘You know what? Bad idea’ but didn’t use it because: Kanye. As the massive corporate parent and patron to Yeezy, surely Adidas had some say.
It’s been a long strange trip with West and the fashion industry, dating back almost a decade since he started attending shows as more than a celebrity, but as an earnest fan and student. He progressed to designer in 2011 when he launched his own collection in Paris. The industry has willfully, giddily been pulled into his wackily mercurial orbit of fame, music, fashion and Kardashians and it’s been endlessly entertaining. His fourth Yeezy show was different. It felt like the end of something.
And yet it wasn’t. Not a month later, West’s wife Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in a hotel during Paris Fashion Week. Over the next few weeks, West began breaking into increasingly unstable rants onstage during his Saint Pablo tour, canceling the remainder of his performances just before he was hospitalized. The couple was said to have been spending the rest of 2016 completely out of the public eye, but last week Kanye emerged, sporting a new blonde ’do, at the “Rick Owens: Furniture” exhibition in West Hollywood, at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Pacific Design Center. It was his first public appearance since his hospitalization.
How does it bode for Yeezy Season 5? One is inclined to say not well, but Yeezus could rise again.
More Kanye West highlights from 2016: