September 30, 2011 Paris
They were two of a surprising number of designers who turned out for Kanye: The presence of Azzedine Alaïa, Dean and Dan Caten, Olivier Theyskens, Jeremy Scott, and the Olsens sealed this evening's deal as a fashion event. Equally, they underscored the goodwill he had going into this. And Kanye himself was poignantly aware of the challenge. "The biggest hurdle I had to face is the celebrity designer or the hip-hop designer concept," he said backstage. But he had some major help in battling preconceptions. Among the people he bounced ideas off, he name-checked Kim Jones, Louise Goldin, Katie Eary, and Louise Wilson, the guiding light of Central Saint Martins and, by extension, guru of British fashion.
Maybe that's why what Kanye actually offered on the catwalk was such a surprise. He was keen to communicate that, as far as he was concerned, there was a couture level of workmanship in items that had taken three days to complete in the atelier he'd established in London. What we actually saw was something that looked like a baby Balmain vision of womenswear. The context was impeccable—soundtrack and staging exactly what you'd expect from someone whose 360-degree vision has been responsible for some of the best albums and concerts of the past decade. The clothes? Heavy might be the operative word: zippers in excelsis; suede and leather high-performance clothing; beading, crystals, and appliqué weighting jackets and tops. And more fur than you'd want on a night when the mercury hit the roof in Paris. It's kind of a cheap shot to go the trying-too-hard route with someone who is so undoubtedly passionate about what he is doing, but at the same time, it's frustrating that someone who seems to almost effortlessly realize his vaulting musical ambitions comes up short elsewhere, at least on the first attempt. Of course, what Kanye West is trying to achieve is unprecedented. There isn't a fashion designer alive who could match his music. But tonight's show suggests that conquering his new medium is a work in progress.