feature: what do you think about kanye’s adidas originals line?

February 16, 2015

“I fought for exactly what I wanted in my closet.” – Kanye West (Style interview, February 16th, 2015) There’s a lot to criticize Kanye West for. We have leveled our share of criticism in the past (and will probably continue to in the future), but the level of criticism he’s getting for his recent Adidas Originals line doesn’t sound like criticism of his designs, it sounds like criticism of who he is. In a world where of the 470 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, there are exactly 12 black members, Kanye’s recent attempts to break into the world of high fashion are refreshing, and refreshingly unpretentious.


By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor


In a recent New York Times article, writer Vanessa Friedman makes the racial divide in the world of high fashion explicit:


““There were more high-profile black designers in the 1970s than there are today,’ said Bethann Hardison, founder of the Diversity Coalition, ticking off the names: Willi Smith, Stephen Burrows, Arthur McGee, Scott Barrie, Jon Haggins. ‘We’re going backwards.’

Though in fact the numbers have stayed fairly steady over the decades, what has changed is the percentage; there were many fewer designers in New York in the 1970s over all (there was no official New York Fashion Week), meaning those five had much greater impact.”

In an illuminating interview in Style about the Adidas Originals line, Kanye is quick to point out his own lack of experience. “I was still coming off of doing crocodile this and almost irresponsible takes on designing clothes to make up for a lack of skill. And now I have a real purpose to what I want to present.” It’s clear that he’s set his mind on becoming a top fashion designer. While many designers work out their rough edges in school, and then in their early careers assisting more established designers, Kanye has no choice but to do it in the public eye. We’re often very unfair to artists who look to branch out into other mediums, expecting that they be instantly brilliant, without granting them the same opportunity to grow that we grant other early stage artists. But what’s admirable is exactly that willingness to experiment and take chances in the public eye. Fault him for his increasingly slapdash lyrics, but I don’t think anyone would say Kanye plays it safe. In the world of high art and high fashion, that desire to upset the status quo and challenge the reigning power dynamics is desperately needed.


Rather than rely exclusively on the emaciated all-white interchangeable army of fashion models, Kanye’s models were pulled from open calls and represented a wider range of body types and backgrounds than almost any runway in Fashion Week. Similarly, he’s made explicitly clear his intent to make his shoes affordable to the average person and disrupt fashion’s brick-solid class divide. “I want to apologize to all the kids and all the parents that can’t get the shoes currently because there’s only 9,000 [pairs]. And also, ’cause they’re $350…Just be patient…Now that I’m in a position, I’m gonna make sure EVERYONE gets Yeezys,” he announced prior to the show.


Criticize his designs if you don’t like them. Criticize his price point if you think he’s not meeting his goal of affordable high fashion shoes. But don’t criticize him for being disruptive. If anything, we need more people out there being disruptive on that level. If Kanye’s the one to do it now, then let’s celebrate his willingness to take chances and challenge the racial and economic divide in the fashion world, and hope that it inspires others to do the same.