Kanye’s upset victory over Chanel shows personalities trump brands

Kanye is coming for you, Lagerfeld.
Kanye is coming for you, Lagerfeld.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
We may earn a commission from links on this page., the popular site that’s a mix of online fashion magazine and clearinghouse for runway images, released its list of the most-viewed shows from fall-winter 2015 this week. Perennial powerhouse Chanel, which frequently captures the top spot, was unseated by a newcomer: Kanye West., kanye west, chanel, dolce gabbana, most-viewed, shows, fall 2015, runway

(The numbers count the page views for the slideshows with runway images that publishes online for each collection.)

The response to the announcement has mostly been to view it as an upset: A rapper and upstart designer with no formal training got more pageviews than the world’s leading luxury houses. But perhaps the rankings shouldn’t be surprising. On the internet, personalities, meaning real people with a talent for exerting their charm across the digital ether, arguably drive more views than companies. West additionally has a mainstream appeal that gives him a potentially wider audience than Chanel, and his collection was one of the most anticipated events of New York Fashion Week.

The advantage personalities have is clear when looking at the images that got the most engagement on Instagram during fashion month. As Quartz found, two-thirds of the top images came from people such as British YouTuber Tanya Burr and models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, the latest additions to the crop of socially savvy stunners known as the “instagirls.” The results suggest that people more readily engage with other people than with brands, and that luxury labels, for all the money they make, don’t have mainstream appeal as broad as that of someone like Kendall Jenner—or Kanye West.

Chanel is highly influential, but it’s still making what are essentially niche products available only to a limited group.

Mr. Personality performs at the Grammy’s.
Mr. Personality performs at the Grammy’s.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson spoke with editor in chief Dirk Standen about the rankings, and even he was surprised by the outcome. ”We’ve covered celebrity lines before, and we covered Kanye’s first two collections he did in Paris a couple of years ago, but they didn’t have that kind of impact,” he said. “Obviously he’s at a whole new level of fame now, but part of it is, I think, there’s a purpose behind his collection that people can’t ignore.”

Standen went on to say that purpose was to “bring good design to the masses.” Whether or not the masses connect with West’s collection for that reason is questionable. It’s already been criticized for its pricing, which was revealed weeks after the unveiling.

What Standen didn’t mention about West’s previous collections compared to this one is how much more hype there was for the recent launch. West had been developing the Adidas line for years after a rancorous split with Nike and trash-talked Nike for weeks before his show. He brought it up in a high-profile interview on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and again in a Grammy’s weekend concert. By the time West showed the collection, even people aside from his legion of fans were curious to see what he’d produced with Adidas.

Ultimately, what matters more than how many clicks slideshows of the collection get is whether buyers pick up the collection. WWD reported that Barneys New York, which has one of the best designer selections in the US, will be carrying it. Not bad for someone who didn’t go to Central Saint Martins.