It’s hard to know sometimes if Kanye West’s inflated self-importance is real or not. It’s easy to brush off song lyrics where he compares himself to Jesus, but what about other times, like when he calls himself the “most important living artist?” Is that vision of himself genuine or part of the performance?
After West presented his latest fashion collection with Adidas at New York Fashion Week on Sep. 7, fashion critic Guy Trebay of the New York Times called (paywall) West’s ego “probably his most perfect creation.” That ego made some arguably unreasonable demands of the attendees of the show it dreamed up—and even more of the models. Several models in his show struggled to remain upright as they tried to remain completely still under direct sun in the 85-degree Fahrenheit heat, while a couple hobbled down the runway in malfunctioning footwear.
A number of guests, realizing this was not part of the performance, felt complicit in creating the situation just by showing up and vented their anger or dismay with the whole affair online.
To even attend the show, the guests, including many fashion editors, were first required to be at the ready an hour and a half before it started to board a bus to an undisclosed location. The setting turned out to be Roosevelt Island, specifically Four Freedoms Park, where dozens of models in an array of flesh-toned leotards stood motionless in a presentation by Vanessa Beecroft, the Italian conceptual artist who has become West’s frequent collaborator. For more than hour, everyone waited for the runway show to begin.
Unfortunately the heat was too much for several models. Many had to sit, and at least one apparently had to leave the show.
When the show did finally get underway, with models marching the walkway around the park, it encountered problems of its own. One model, after limping along for a bit in her shoes, had enough and discarded them. The heel of another model’s shoe broke, causing her to wobble until Bruce Pask, the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, stepped forward to help her.
West is far from the first person to start a fashion show late (even by an hour), but the whole scenario was evidently more than many were willing to bear. To make matters worse, reviews of the clothes themselves were lackluster at best. Much of what West showed retread ground he’s already covered previously. Perhaps the most successful aspect of the show, as Tim Blanks noted at Business of Fashion, was how the color palette of the clothes reflected an array of skin tones. West had drawn criticism for calling for “multiracial” models only, but the decision paid off with a cast that showed the wide diversity of what we monolithically call “black” skin.
West is of course a great producer and performance artist, and his fashion shows have always played to that. But they don’t have to. Rihanna, who is also a global superstar because of her music, launched her latest collection with Puma in a much calmer format at Bergdorf Goodman. The line is similar in many regards to West’s partnership with Adidas in its focus on casual clothing and sneakers as well as in its commercial success. What’s different is how much time and energy Rihanna and Puma expect the world to devote to the collection.