The House of Ye has come — or at least broken out on its own.
Kanye West, who officially changed his name to Ye, used the platform of his ninth Yeezy show — a surprise outing in Paris — to reset his own fashion line and try to shake up the fashion industry, again.
While the designer, musician and provocateur presented a collection of looks under the YZY name that were devoid of hardware and could be simply pulled on and off, he’s aiming at more than just doing away with the zipper.
In a speech before the show — and in comments backstage afterward — Ye got personal, courted controversy with a “White Lives Matter” T shirt, railed against former partner Gap and called out not just competitors, but LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault.
Ye’s “White Lives Matter” shirt, which featured an image of Pope John Paul II on the front, drew a quick backlash online and at the show, with some who attended walking out over the message they couldn’t support. Asked to elaborate on the message after the show, Ye just noted, “It says it all.”
The Anti-Defamation League describes “White Lives Matter” as “a white supremacist phrase that originated in early 2015 as a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement.”
On social, reactions ranged from disappointment to outrage and even more active statements.
Jason Lee, who worked in communications for Yeezy, decided to end that part of their relationship after the show, responding on Instagram: “I love Ye as a person, and I support free speech. But this is gaslighting black people and empowering white supremacy. Not sure if he has any friends left to tell him but this is utterly disappointing.
“I’m going to exercise free speech and say, nobody Black has ever said that white lives don’t matter. But when Black people do this it just screams the need for white validation,” Lee continued. On Tuesday, Lee, as well as others who attended the show, resurfaced Black Lives Matter posts and messaging.
Ye has been similarly controversial in the past, for his support of President Donald Trump and for describing slavery as a “choice.”
In short, Ye is remarkably consistent — living out loud online and IRL and taking no prisoners.
Ye started with a kind of walk-through of his Yeezy brand so far, tying the fashion line in with milestones from his own life, recalling his Season Four show on Roosevelt Island in New York, which started late with high temperatures prompting models to pass out.
“If anyone remembers that show, people were falling over,” Ye said. “And that’s what the press wrote about. A week after that show happened, my wife at the time [Kim Kardashian] got robbed right here in Paris. Then I told my manager at the time, Scooter Braun, that I just wanted to go to Japan, I just wanted to take a break. And he said, ‘No, we need to make more money, so we need to do a second leg of the tour.’ And that tour lasted for four days and I went to the hospital.”
For Ye, it’s an episode that clearly lingers.
“Every time I do something great, someone brings up that moment, for the rest of my life,” said Ye, having brought it up himself this time, perhaps reappropriating the telling of the experience. “It’s the ultimate stigma. People feel like they have the right to come to my face and call me crazy, like it doesn’t hurt my feelings or, like, you don’t have to be crazy in order to change the world.”
Regardless, that seems to be the plan — to change the world and to take on all comers.
“We’re starting our own house tonight,” Ye said. “Sometimes the cut could be slightly off, the stitch could be slightly off, but we did change the look of fashion over the past 10 years. We are the streets.”
And, it seems, that goes whether the show starts late or not.
“We will not be treated differently than you treat any other fashion show that starts a little bit later just to present the best idea to you,” Ye told reporters as preamble. “These pictures will last forever. This is something that you would not be able to Ungoogle.
“I am Ye,” he said. “And everybody here knows that I am the leader.”
Apparently, this was something that the C-suite at Gap — which recently agreed to end its partnership with Yeezy — didn’t understand or agree with.
“We went to Gap, the colorways wouldn’t come back, a pant would be missing, a store in Atlanta wouldn’t open,” Ye griped. “It felt like we were just there to be slowed down. But there’s no slowing us down now….The people in the boardroom felt like they knew what the people in the streets wanted.”
But Ye is not going to be managed.
“This is an unmanageable situation,” he said. “You can’t turn the music lower. This is a god thing. A dream that can’t happen without the help of God.”
And then he set his sights a good deal higher than Gap, switching from the struggling American specialty retailer to the pinnacle of the luxury world in Paris.
“Bernard Arnault is my new Drake,” Ye said, aiming at who he views as his next competitor.
The elder Arnault was at one time a potential partner.
“After my first collection, Yeezy One, got more views than Chanel, I had a meeting with Bernard Arnault and he offered me a deal for the Kanye West line and three months after that, he pulled on the deal. So my second collection didn’t have a producer.”
(Present at the show was Arnault’s son Alexandre Arnault, now executive vice president of product and communications at the LVMH-owned Tiffany & Co., and a longtime fan of the rapper.)
In 2015, then 22 and a student, the young Arnault convinced West to perform an impromptu concert in the auditorium of his Fondation Louis Vuitton art museum.
“He’s great,” Bernard Arnault told WWD after that show, giving a thumbs-up sign.
Backstage, Ye continued the Arnault thread. “He’s definitely the number-one competition,” he said.
Asked if he would still like a deal with Arnault, Ye made clear he’s out on his own.
“No, absolutely,” Ye said. “Why would I do a deal? I run the culture.”
But running the culture seems to still require paying the bills and working with some limitations.
If at least rhetorically one “can’t turn the music lower” on Yeezy, it is possible to turn the volume down in real life, as Ye noted of working with the venue. The show space — a vacant building a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe — had previously been used by Raf Simons, but needed to be negotiated for without the help of a corporate giant.
Yeezy, for all its profile, is still something of a scrappy player carving a space in the world.
“Even the sound and the music right now is not as loud as I would usually play my music,” Ye acknowledged backstage. “Nothing was handed to us, nothing was given to us, we had to fight tooth and nail. And that’s what happens when you go independent, you can’t lean on those big companies to give your vision. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
Ye sounded at turns angry, triumphant, proud and jovial.
How did he feel?
“I feel the same,” he said. “At war.”