Kanye West’s influence on the fashion industry is significant and far-reaching. He successfully transitioned from musician to fashion icon, leaving an indelible mark on the industry through his Yeezy brand, collaborations, personal style, and overall impact on fashion trends.
He played a pivotal role in popularizing streetwear in high fashion circles. His style often combines luxury elements with streetwear staples, blurring the lines between street and high fashion. This fusion has inspired many designers and brands to incorporate streetwear elements into their collections.
Kanye West’s Life and Career
Kanye West, legal name Ye, was born June 8, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an American producer, rapper, and fashion designer who leveraged his success into producing his fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s, becoming a famous artist.
He was the son of Ray West, a former Black Panther, an African American revolutionary party, and one of the first black photojournalists in The Atlanta Journalist- Constitution. His mother, Donda West, was a professor at Clark Atlanta University.
West grew up in a middle-class environment, attending Polaris School for Individualized Education in suburban Oak Lawn, Illinois, after living in Chicago.
By age 10, West moved with her mother to Nanjing, China, where she taught. According to his mother, West was the only foreigner in his class, but he adapted well and quickly learned the language, although he has since forgotten most of it.
From the beginning, he demonstrated his considerable ability as a producer, contributing to Jermaine Dupri’s album Life in 1472, before moving to New York, where he made a name for himself, especially on rapper Jay-Z’s album Blueprint. West gained his share of recognition as an artist-producer for Roc-A-Fella Records in the early 2000s, producing singles for several top artists and developing a production style that heavily samples classic soul music.
As Roc-A-Fella’s in-house producer, West was able to produce music for other artists on the label, including Beanie Sigel and Freeway. He has also created hits for Ludacris, Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson.
Meanwhile, West needed help landing a recording contract as a rapper. West’s skillful use of up-tempo and sampled rhythms quickly made him an in-demand artist and producer. Still, he struggled when he was not allowed to make his recordings (partly due to the perceived awareness that his family background denied him any credibility as a rapper). Further, several record labels, including Capitol Records, rejected or ignored it because it did not represent the gangsta image, which was crucial in mainstream hip-hop then.
As his performing career took off, West continued to work as a producer, with songs by famous artists such as Nas, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé credited.
He also founded the music label GOOD Music.
In 2008, 808s and Heartbreak, an album about personal feelings of loss and regret, was released by West. Its sound is markedly different from his previous releases, as West chose to sing with a vocal production tool called Auto-Tune) rather than rap his lyrics. This hurt his reputation as an artist, and the backlash he received from the fans when he rushed the stage, stopping Taylor Swift from her speech at the Music Awards-MTV Video, added fuel to the fire.
West tried reviving his image since then. In 2012, West introduced Cruel Summer, a compilation featuring him and several artists signed to his GOOD Music label. In February 2015, West, in collaboration with German clothing company Adidas, announced the first “season” or collection of his long-awaited fashion line, YEEZY. YEEZY Season 1 features streetwear for men and women, including oversized sweaters, military-inspired jackets and leftovers, sneakers, boots, and more.
Kanye West and His Fashion Style
From his early days as a music artist to his current status as a fashion designer, West has consistently pushed boundaries and challenged traditional norms. His influence can be seen in his style and collaborations with major fashion brands.
In addition to his style, West has also made a name for himself as a fashion designer. His brand, Yeezy, has gained a cult following and has become synonymous with cutting-edge streetwear. The Yeezy collections feature minimalist designs, neutral color palettes, and innovative materials.
In partnership with Adidas, the Yeezy brand became known for its distinctive, minimalist streetwear style. In particular, Yeezy sneakers have become a highly sought-after item, with newly released versions causing a stir in the sneakerhead community.
West has collaborated with major fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, further solidifying his status as a fashion icon. His collaborations have resulted in highly sought-after sneakers and clothing collections sold out within minutes.
Before entering the high fashion world, West hatched two clothing brand ideas in the mid-2000s, including Mascotte By K West, which was eventually abandoned and never saw the light of day, and Pastelle. Enlisting the creative help of industry experts like Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones (then Louis Vuitton’s men’s creative director), West wanted Pastelle to launch in 2009.
West’s ability to merge his unique vision with established fashion houses has brought a fresh perspective to the industry. However, some critics frowned at his attempt to take the high side in fashion, such as in October 2011, when West presented at Paris Fashion Week his Dw by Kanye West collection.
The inaugural show featured prints in snakeskin, skin-tight leather, pants, and many furs. The critics could have received it better, who noted the ill-fitting look twist of many of the clothes.
West was unmoved by the criticism and continued. His ability to create clothing that is both fashion-forward and wearable has earned him praise from critics and consumers alike; he even received recognition and awards for his contributions to fashion, including the Fashion Innovator Award at the 2015 Footwear News Achievement Awards and the Urban Luxe Award at the 2019 British Fashion Awards.
It was also notable that West’s influence in fashion made a landslide in social media platforms. Dominique Jones, a 32-year-old man from Seattle who you may know from his TikTok page, credited Kanye with buying his first pair of Chelsea boots.
He also said he still incorporates many of Ye’s wardrobe staples, like bomber jackets, sweatshirts, and ripped jeans. Predictably, West’s influence on people’s wardrobes also helps major retailers decide what products are worth stocking.
Kanye West’s Growing Influence in Fashion
West attended Balenciaga’s Paris Fashion Week Fall 2021 Haute Couture presentation wearing a veil, black Yeezy Gap Round jacket, black pants, and Yeezy Foam Runners. He continued his high-profile fashion shows by showcasing his Yeezy collections. These shows have been known for their avant-garde presentations and have garnered significant attention from the fashion industry and media.
In the same year, the Yeezy X Gap collaboration was released—a full-circle moment for West, in addition to learning the ropes at Fendi. He worked under Gap designer Patrick Robinson. The collection’s first piece was launched with a bright blue round jacket. The line closely resembles the typical Yeezy line, with various neutral colors, puffer jackets, oversized hoodies, and even khaki pants, still a trademark by Gap.
Kanye West has become a fashion icon thanks to his bold and creative style. His ability to blend luxury and streetwear, his successful collaborations with major fashion brands, and his advocacy for diversity in the industry all contribute to his influence. Through his style and fashion designs, West continues to move further from fashion boundaries and redefine what it means to be an icon.