For almost as long as we’ve known him, Kanye West has professed his frustration at not being taken seriously as a fashion designer. Accordingly, his decade has been defined by that quest, as much as—if not more than—by his music. When I think about Kanye’s 2010s, the images that come to mind have fashion at their core: that “Runaway” dinner jacket, or his 2016 listening-party-slash-post-runway spectacle, models in dusty monochrome piled atop a mountain, at Madison Square Garden, or his current place atop Yeezy, the sneaker company Forbes has called a “billion-dollar empire.”
And yet it doesn’t quite feel as if West ever attained the full fashion-emperor status he’s long coveted. Today, his Yeezy Supply website is curiously sparse. He seems to have shelved his couture dreams, instead accepting his role as merely the most important sneaker designer on the planet.
If that’s surprising to hear—if it’s somehow disconcerting to find that the man who desired to dress the entire world wound up instead cobbling it—it’s because Kanye’s own capacious ideas about fashion, most often displayed on his own body, were so overwhelming, so era-defining, as to have practically insisted that everyone else pay attention to them, too.
Consider the breadth of his influence. The predominant shape of the 2010s? Kanye’s preferred short jacket and long tee, paired with skinny jeans and Chelsea boots—and there’s not really a runner-up. He’s responsible for a large chunk of the most covetable sneakers of all time. Maybe he made you consider a kilt. He has most recently adopted a Wyoming-friendly wardrobe of cotton fleece, hazard-neon outerwear, and—yes—that MAGA cap. But that’s only the latest in a series of silhouettes and items that, after they appeared on Kanye, immediately speckled the landscape like a particularly virulent strain of fashion mushroom.
His taste had a certain gravity to it. An undeniability. (Do you see this coat?!) The fact that Kanye bought something instantly imbued it with immense power. An example: I have in my possession a Nike United States Track and Field crewneck. It was, I’m sure, for a very long time utterly unremarkable—but then Kanye wore it, the Kanye To The forums catalogued it, and I (along with however many hundreds more) knew, innately, that I needed to have it. Kanye’s talent for wearing clothes was so immense that his buying something rendered it, always and already, stylish. This was personal style as tautology.
It was also personal style updated, in real-time, for the age of Instagram. I can call to mind a whole host of photos: all of Kanye leaving his apartment or hotel or office, strolling out into New York or Paris or Calabasas, in the process suggesting that leather pants, or tie-dye, or running tights, or double denim merited a shot in my life. And while Kanye’s long had his issues with the paparazzi, they were an essential component of his personal style. The clothes always looked best when captured in motion—and, more than that, the paps served as a ready distribution mechanism for high-grade gear. Kanye and Kim are perhaps the most photographed couple in history; by extension, Kanye’s clothes are probably the most frequently captured, too. The medium was always the message.
Eventually, of course, trends—blood-red suiting, Acne jeans, retro Jordans—gave way to a distinctly Kanye brand of self-mythologizing merch, all around his tours for Yeezus and The Life of Pablo. Crucially, that Life of Pablo gear marks the point at which Kanye’s style collided with ideology. Spoiler alert: ideology won. (Remember when he hit Barneys in the bomber with a Confederate flag? Remember when he explained it away, saying, “I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now. Now, what are you going to do?” Remember when we bought that? Just me?)
If this all carries a whiff of misplaced nostalgia, well: I was young, and, like a lot of young men, I spent a long time assigning too much import to the things I put on my body. But that was part of the fun. The fact that Kanye, indisputably among the greatest musicians of his generation, seemed so much more interested in the drape of his T-shirt and the cut of his jeans justified a whole subculture’s interest in the same.
And so the decade ends, with Kanye compound-hopping in Calabasas and Wyoming and new Yeezys dropping every week. That he looked so incredibly cool for so long isn’t cheapened by the fact that he spends his days wearing sweats and rapping about his religious awakening. Instead, it’s a reminder that style is contingent, fleeting, ever-shifting. You set out to raise everyone’s taste level, and you settle for selling them sneakers. You see this coat—and then, maybe, you don’t.
Click on the comment box below and leave us your thoughts. Thank you.