Despite being blasted by renowned fashion critic Cathy Horyn as presenting a collection full of Spanx, Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 1 is selling like wildfire. Kanye has consistently produced products that sell, and sell very well, which raises the question: What allows Kanye to continually dominate the fashion game?
Raf Simons, while a fashion design icon, isn’t known by the typical American. Kanye, despite not being the most beloved of Americans, is well known. For some, the introduction came in 2005 when he took a stand against George Bush and his handling of Katrina. However, for most the real moment of superstardom came in an interesting twist of fate: the 2009 VMA’s (aka the Taylor Swift incident). Although it temporarily sidetracked his career, suddenly everyone knew his name. Even Obama at the time had a few choice words for the superstar. Today, more so than ever, Kanye stays in the limelight due to his wife, her family, and his various endeavors.
His position of being constantly tracked in the media allows him to promote his products directly and have them seen by a wide audience. Instead of having to pay millions for an expensive campaign rollout, he can just perform a concert in his new shoes and gain millions in advertising.
The First Family of Marketing
It pays to be well connected and no one is better connected than Kanye. Kim and Kanye are certainly highly influential in their own rights, but the extended network of the Kardashian family propels his reach to the moon. Kylie and Kendall were recently named as part of TIME Magazine’s most influential teens. Additionally, the total Instagram reach of the immediate Kardashian clan totals in at roughly 203 million followers. To give you an estimate that’s approximately 63% of the entire 318 million population of the United States. Kanye also has an all-star network of label rappers to help him push product: Travis Scott, Pusha T, and Big Sean to name a few. His ability to create a product and get it into the hands of the most influential people in pop culture at practically zero cost is unparalleled. Some companies will pay the likes of a Kylie or Kendall Jenner hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote them on Instagram. Kanye, however, is able to fully cash in on the family discount.
The Kardashian-West Empire also encompasses other outlets in which to display his endeavors: the reality TV show, the various apps of each sister, and the endless paparazzi photos of any family member whenever they step out. For the Kardashian-West crew any moment spent awake is a chance to cash in on fame. Kanye knows this and expertly utilizes the resources of his family to create a unique fervor for his products. Recently, this was executed brilliantly by Kim who took a picture of her Yeezy Season shoe collection that included a new colorway of the 350, and posted it to Instagram. Within minutes every sneaker head was collapsing and saying quite prayers in hopes of one day acquiring the coveted kicks. Meanwhile, media companies swarmed on the new information and blasted it as far as the eye could see. Moments like these are unique to Kanye and fully display his power in numbers.
From the start of his career Kanye, formerly The Louis Vuitton Don, has been highly fashion conscious. He barreled into the industry with a look juxtaposed to the style of the times: Ralph Lauren Polos, Louis Vuitton backpacks, and bright colors were his calling card. Yeezy was one of the first rappers to be more influenced from the streets of Paris than the streets of his youth. He further developed his urban-prep look and started delving deep into Japanese fashion and style in 2007; also in 2007, Kanye had one of his most influential moments of his career with the Venetian Slit sunglasses featured in the Akira-inspired video for Stronger. Following the fallout from his 2009 run-in with with Taylor Swift and Hennessy, Kanye elevated his taste level and influence even higher. Kanye took a break from the US after the VMA incident and briefly hid out in Japan. He then decided to go with friend, and OFF-WHITE Creative Director, Virgil Abloh to intern at Fendi in Rome. During this time Kanye and Virgil gave their opinion on fashion to Fendi and were repeatedly denied. According to Kanye in his BBC1 interview with Zane Lowe, He and Virgil at the time brought the leather jogger to Fendi years before it would become en vogue in Hip-hop. Despite his ho-hum tenure at Fendi, Kanye made his Paris Fashion Week debut in 2009, and since then has remained a constant staple ever since.
Kanye went on to further prove his influence through various movements: the 2010 “Rosewood Movement,” the 2011 Celine shirt at Coachella, the Watch The Throne Tour of 2011 art directed by Givenchy Creative Director Riccardo Tisci, and the 2011 runway debut of Kanye West at Paris Fashion Week. This period marked Kanye’s all out assault into the fashion industry. He was doing any and everything he could to get inside the guarded doors. Although he would continue to struggle, he gained a massive following among fashionable youth and peers throughout the world. Kanye through his toiling positioned himself as a tastemaker of the people. The typical consumer isn’t able to attend and gain the access that Kanye can and turns to him for direction. Kanye knows this and uses his platform to constantly highlight products that he deems worthy. For instance, in 2014 Kanye complimented a kids sweatshirt and took a picture with him in the streets of NYC. The moment was captured by TMZ and instantly led to the sweatshirt sell out, with over 300 units sold at a $135 price tag. This is the end result of Kanye’s years hanging in the fashion industry. His opinion within fashion, to a certain demographic, holds tremendous weight and can move mountains.
The YEEZY Lifestyle
A lot is often made about celebrities and their “Lifestyle” brands: Gwenyth Paltrow with Goop, Reese Witherspoon with Draper James, and Tyga with Last Kings all represent celebrities and their lifestyles. Recently, Stephen Colbert took aim at their ridiculous claims and practices. The reason that so many of these often fall victim to ridicule is because the celebrities don’t fully embrace and live the brand. Kanye West, however, is through and through Kanye West. Yeezy Season isn’t just his brand slapped onto some other persons designs, as so often is the case with celebrity clothing. Yeezy Season is Kanye: his designs, his thoughts, his inspirations. That level of authenticity isn’t the norm with typical lifestyle brands and is what allows his to flourish.
Additionally, Kanye occupies a unique space in pop culture as the ultimate renaissance man. He is a fashion designer, rapper, producer, art curator, technological innovator, and genuine hell raiser. Unlike other celebrities of his ilk, he’s highly visible at all times and has multiple avenues to engage with his brand. If you’re a Kanye fan you have a distinctive culture specific to him to engage with: you listen to Kanye music, wear Kanye clothes, and can even spend time on Kanye forums. No other celebrity is so widely accessible in so many ways. It allows a consumer to fully become entrenched in the lifestyle and yields a loyalty not typically seen. Therefore, due to this passion people are more than willing to support anything produced by him. Last month they’re buying up his Yeezy Season one collection. Next month, it could be buying up his highly anticipated album SWISH. The products may change but the loyalty remains due to Kanye’s undying dedication to remaining authentic and influential.