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What Kanye West’s Fashion Regression Says About The State Of Streetwear


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Kanye West’s style regression feels like a seismic shift in the global streetwear industry. It’s been prevalent on Instagram all year long, and it’s also been the sole way he’s been a part of the fashion lexicon for the larger part of 2023. If you thought you could run from his anti-style approach, think again. The rapper and multi-hyphenate has always been a style influencer–this time he’s reverted to an unconventional approach–and it’s leaving a mark. It begs the question of whether West has been relying strictly on hues like Black to express himself to take attention off of himself. The paparazzi have captured him wearing a take on a leather sweatshirt with eccentric high-top shoes back in March. The footwear in question are notably similar to his forthcoming Yeezy sneaker release which is to be expected from the fashion legend. 

What’s most interesting about West’s style pivot is what it may say about the state of men’s fashion and streetwear. Does the absence of emotion in his attire suggest a potential direction these markets are headed? No. The artist was a pivotal figure in menswear before he decided to scale things back. He’s often referred to as one of the most stylish rappers of all time. This is largely due to the numerous eras he’s helmed on behalf of himself. He went from solely wearing Ralph Lauren at the start of his career to experimenting with Givenchy amid his Watch The Throne era. By 2009, West launched Yeezy. This moment was all about distressed tees, skintight leggings, and monochromatic hues. Anything he wore trickled down to his fans. But, up until when he announced Yeezy was relaunching last week it appeared as though he has siloed himself from the global clothing industry. This current era has been all about somewhat boring separates that lack the energy he once put into getting dressed. He once was looked to as a fashion savant–and, now he appears to be shifting away from that moniker. 

What Kanye West’s Fashion Regression Says About The State Of Streetwear
Kanye West in May in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by MEGA/GC Images)

Jayson Rodriguez, a veteran journalist and executive producer at iHeartMedia shares in an email that Kanye has been moving towards an avant garde sense of fashion for quite some time (Rodriguez has also interviewed West multiple times). “The more experimental he gets in terms of style, but it’s gotten to the point now where the provocation lacks purpose beyond calling attention to himself without a statement,” Rodriguez writes. 

Rodriguez’ logic points to how West has been aesthetically flying under the radar in 2023. Brooklyn-based stylist, Fana Haile feels it’s not a step backwards or a regression. “I see it more as another Kanye era,” Haile notes.  

Regardless of West’s reasoning for pivoting, one notion has noticeably become the norm in the past five years: the entire clothing industry heavily relying on celebrities and those who are influential due to their followers. These individuals are given platforms and titles to generate traction and sell goods. Historically, hip hop has always had a somewhat symbiotic relationship with luxury fashion brands. Think Run-D.M.C.’s hit song “My Adidas” from 1986 or Lil’ Kim being heralded as a muse of Marc Jacobs in the mid-’90s. These moments provide context for how the appointment of a figure like the late Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton has fared well at a cultural level. But, it also proves that fashion institutions will continue relying on figures to gain influence and customers. 

Pharrell Williams is one of the latest figures who is being tapped to breathe life into a major fashion brand. His appointment as the creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton speaks to the ideal that the global clothing industry taps respected artists and the like to inject their energy into accessories, luggage and beyond. Pietro Beccari, chief executive office of Louis Vuitton said the artist’s appointment was an experiment in an interview with GQ. However, Beccari also declared he thought it would be a successful experiment. “It’s the first time someone has had the daringness to pick a real worldwide star to helm a house,” said Beccari on his decision. 

What Kanye West’s Fashion Regression Says About The State Of Streetwear
Kanye West in Milan, Italy in September. (Photo by MEGA/GC Images)

Pharrell’s longstanding relationship with fashion and his collaborations with Tiffany & Co., Colette, Chanel, and Marc Jacobs landed him at Louis Vuitton. His friendship and creative relationship with Nigo have contributed to his purview of streetwear. This track record in addition to his affinity for wearing pieces that speak to him no matter what musical era he’s contributing to also did. 

“I look at myself like I’m the real customer,” Pharrell says on creating items for Louis Vuitton. “So I design for what it is that I want and what I’m going to need.” His first show in June was a compelling high fashion extravaganza. It was lauded as a success too. The collection was filled with pieces emblazoned with a depiction of Louis Vuitton’s Damier print.

After a three-year wait sportswear titan, Jerry Lorenzo, who has raked in millions of dollars with his label (Fear of God) has finally launched a collaboration with the German brand Adidas. “The ambition is no hype, no collabs, no lifestyle,” said Lorenzo in a recent GQ interview when speaking on the launch of Fear of God Athletics with Adidas. He has successfully propelled Fear of God into a winning brand, and has a staying power that doesn’t feel forced. “We wanted to come to Adidas and do something we can’t do on our own,” he also said. And that is creating athletic clothing. Fear of God is mainly respected as an athleisure brand, but in the past few years it has entered the luxury market.   

Lorenzo’s latest chapter with Adidas is yet another example of large companies taking a chance on heavily followed creators. After the tumultuous fall-out that Adidas experienced with West’s billion-dollar Yeezy departing from the brand, Fear of God could potentially reboot the brand’s athletic sector. Lorenzo was a part of the team that meticulously crafted the beginnings of Yeezy. “I think what Kanye did with Adidas was something that only he could do. And I have too much respect for him to come in after him and try to fill a hole,” Lorenzo tells GQ

What Kanye West’s Fashion Regression Says About The State Of Streetwear
Kanye West in June in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by MEGA/GC Images)

Ultimately, fashion’s cyclical system is going to keep leaning on celebrities or individuals with a large following and excellent personal style. As far as West’s style, his choices don’t appear to have an impact on the fashion industry at large. If anything they’ve emboldened him to lean into yet another era. “I feel as though Kanye has nothing to prove style-wise,” shared Chelsea Hall, a fashion and beauty writer who previously worked at Marie Claire and InStyle.

Hall expresses that West is returning to the origins of streetwear culture by dressing based on how he’s feeling rather than looking to trends. “The way he chooses to dress seems as though it is strictly for his pleasure and not to catch approval,” she adds. And this has always been somewhat of a mission for West, to push boundaries and shatter glass ceilings. 


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