This man is crazy as fuck but also brilliant as fuck. He is a legend, a icon on many ways.
Kanye West is one of the most influential and controversial musicians of the 21st century. But beyond his music career, West has made significant waves in the fashion industry over the past two decades. His unique personal style and high-profile collaborations with leading brands have cemented his status as a prominent figure in fashion.
But does that make Kanye West a true fashion icon? This in-depth blog post will analyze West’s fashion credentials and impact to determine if he deserves to be called a fashion icon.
Kanye’s Early Fashion Influence as a Hip-Hop Star
When Kanye West first burst onto the hip-hop scene in the early 2000s, his preppy, Polo-inspired style stood out among rappers who tended to wear baggy streetwear. West’s embrace of high-end brands like Ralph Lauren showed hip-hop stars could move beyond stereotypical “bling” and sportswear aesthetics.
West’s fame grew, and his fashion sense evolved from preppy to more trend-forward looks. He made bold statements like wearing a kilt to the American Music Awards in 2006, long before male skirts became remotely mainstream. West brought attention to emerging designers like Hedi Slimane by wearing Dior Homme skinny jeans. His eclectic style mashed up tailored pieces with avant-garde details, setting West apart from cookie-cutter celebrity fashion.
Summary of Kanye’s Early Fashion Impact
- Broke the mold for rappers by embracing preppy, tailored clothing from Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton
- Evolved toward edgier high fashion looks from brands like Dior Homme
- Made bold fashion choices well before they hit the mainstream
- Gave exposure to new designers that were overlooked at the time
- Blended trends from different eras and genres for unique styling
Even at the start of his career, Kanye had an eye for creative styling that pushed boundaries. His fearless fashion sense from the 2000s proved he had his aesthetic vision.
Launching His Fashion Lines
Kanye steadily built his fashion profile through the 2000s via his personal style and shoe collaborations with brands like Nike and Louis Vuitton. But it wasn’t until 2011 that West made his full design debut at Paris Fashion Week.
DW Kanye West (2011)
West premiered his first eponymous womenswear collection as part of Paris Fashion Week in 2011. The line included daring looks like silk dresses with peplum tails and leather miniskirts with grommet details. Critics noted West’s ability to contrast structural shapes with soft, sensual fabrics.
DW Kanye West received mixed early reviews. But the range indicated West could hold his own during the most prestigious fashion event in the world.
Kanye West for Adidas (2015 – Present)
West’s most significant and successful fashion partnership has been with Adidas, beginning in 2013. West translated his eclectic style into bold sneaker designs that became instantly iconic.
The Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 changed the sneaker game with its knit upper, bulky sole and earthy color palette. By limiting supply, West turned Yeezys into the most coveted kicks on the market. The sneakers have become more popular, with offerings like the Foam Runners, made from algae-based foam.
Beyond sneakers, West’s work with Adidas has expanded into apparel. The Yeezy Season collections feature oversized jackets, bodysuits, shearling coats and military-inspired pieces with a dystopian edge. Critically acclaimed designers like Louise Goldin have contributed to the Yeezy Season collections.
While the sneakers get the most hype, West’s Adidas apparel captures his boundary-pushing aesthetic. The footwear and clothing stay true to West’s avant-garde vision while having mass commercial appeal.
Summary of Kanye’s Own Brands
- DW Kanye West brought his music world flair to Paris Fashion Week
- Yeezy made Kanye the most influential sneaker designer of the 21st century
- Apparel collections feature West’s signature oversized, military-inspired looks
- Proved he could move beyond streetwear to create critically respected high fashion
By launching brands under his name, West has freely expressed his design aesthetic without compromises. The phenomenal success of Yeezy shows West transitioning from fashion connoisseur to industry tastemaker.
Influencing Fashion’s Next Generation
Beyond wearing bold looks and launching brands, Kanye West has impacted fashion by inspiring up-and-coming designers. His music collaborator Virgil Abloh has called West a creative mentor. Abloh’s Off-White brand has brought urban streetwear to high fashion runways.
West’s avant-garde style also sparked interest in emerging labels like Vetements that seized fashion’s attention in the 2010s. Demna Gvasalia of Vetements has directly cited West’s early looks as an inspiration. Gvasalia later became Creative Director at Balenciaga and continues shaping the avant-garde scene.
Through proteges like Abloh and Gvasalia, West’s influence extends far beyond his work. His openness to experimenting guided a new generation of designers wanting to shake up the old fashion establishment.
Summary of Kanye’s Impact on Emerging Designers
- Virgil Abloh considers West a mentor and creative inspiration for Off-White.
- Vetements designer Demna Gvasalia says West’s 2000s style sparked the brand’s avant-garde looks.
- West gave the new wave of urban designers the courage to bring streetwear to high fashion.
- His musical and fashion collaborators represent the next generation of design stars.
West helped kick down doors in fashion, paving the way for young talents who now dominate the industry. His mentorship of figures like Abloh shows a generational transition.
Criticisms and Controversies
For all of Kanye West’s success and influence in fashion, he remains a polarizing figure. Here are some notable critiques and controversies surrounding West’s fashion credentials.
- Accusations of Copying Other Designers
Throughout his career, West has faced accusations of too-closely copying the work of other designers. His DW Kanye West line was critiqued for resembling Givenchy’s designs under Riccardo Tisci. Critics charged the Yeezy Season 1 collection with pulling too much from existing Comme des Garcons collections.
Supporters argue West is paying homage to his fashion inspirations rather than plagiarizing. But the copying allegations persist and raise questions about the originality of his design work.
- Kardashian-ification of Fashion
Some blame West and his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, for promoting a distorted idea of high fashion. They argue West’s emphasis on celebrity and status radicalized fashion, alongside the rise of influencer culture.
Detractors say West prioritizes spectacle over quality design. His critics see the Kardashian clan’s love of paparazzi and brand-building over substance as damaging to the industry. There’s a sense that West helped marry fashion with shallow digital culture and turned design into a popularity contest.
- West’s Erratic Behavior
Beyond his work, West’s erratic public behavior has made him a controversial figure. His support of Donald Trump’s presidency baffled fans. West has voiced odd conspiracy theories and made controversial statements about slavery. In 2022, he elicited widespread condemnation for wearing a “White Lives Matter” tee shirt.
West’s mental health struggles provide context for his outbursts. But his actions have strained relations across the fashion world. Critics question if West has the temperament and judgment expected from an icon.
Summary of West’s Fashion Controversies
- Accused of copying designs from Givenchy, Comme des Garcons and others
- Blamed for promoting vapid celebrity culture over quality design
- Erratic statements and political stances have strained industry relations
- Mental health issues explain but don’t excuse controversial actions
While West’s talent is undeniable, his behaviour has raised concerns. Fashion icons tend to be regarded as tastemakers. But West’s divisive statements cast doubt on his credentials as a leader.
Verdict: Kanye West’s Complicated Fashion Legacy
Looking at Kanye West’s eventful career, his influence on fashion is impossible to deny. But is he truly a fashion icon? The answer is complicated.
The case for Kanye West as a fashion icon:
- Brought hip-hop aesthetics into high fashion well before it was accepted
- Developed a daring style vision in the 2000s that inspired future generations of designers
- Created globally popular brands that redefined sneakers and streetwear
- Provided a platform for emerging design talents to shake up establishment fashion
The case against Kanye West as a fashion icon:
- Accused of copying other designers rather than being wholly original
- Promoted fixation on celebrity over design quality
- Controversial statements and conduct are at odds with leadership roles expected from icons
- Lacks enough reputable design output outside of Yeezy shoes
Rather than an outright icon or a pretender, West’s fashion status seems to land somewhere in the middle:
Kanye occupies a unique role as fashion’s iconoclast—the rule-breaking outsider who forces change, though not necessarily the celebrated leader.
He undoubtedly advanced fashion’s embrace of hip-hop style and gave voice to new generations of designers. But West must be more divisive and untethered from the fashion establishment to be lauded as an icon.
Regardless of his official icon status, Kanye’s innovations opened doors for diversity and youth culture in fashion. His legacy as a barrier-breaking troublemaker who spoke difficult truths appears assured. Only time will tell whether West’s broad cultural impact will transform him from iconoclast to bonafide icon.