Why Kanye West's Yeezy Show Could Be Game-Changing for the Fashion Industry

Kanye West BB 27
Thomas Kuhlenbeck for Billboard

An illustration of Kanye West from issue 27 of Billboard on Sept. 19, 2015.

On Thursday, Kanye West will present his Yeezy Season 3 collection, a fashion show that will double as the world premiere of his new album The Life Of Pablo (formerly Waves and Swish), at Madison Square Garden.

If the clothes are anything like the first two seasons, which are part of West’s reported $10 million deal with Adidas, it’s safe to assume there will be plenty of urban and athletic silhouettes -- an array of oversized hooded sweatshirts, sweatpants and coats in a palette of earth tones. And if the show itself is anything like the first two seasons, it will be celebrity-saturated. Lorde, Jaden Smith, Drake, Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs and a who’s who of designers, including Alexander Wang and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, have all punctuated past front rows.

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Though many critics have yet to accept West as a serious contender within the design world, there is no denying the brand's success within the retail space (the debut Yeezy Boost 350’s, priced at $350, sold out in 12 minutes in the U.S. and then fetched upward of $6,000 on eBay). But it's not West's designs that could potentially have a lasting effect on the fashion industry, so much as the revolutionary framework he is setting into motion with this week’s show. 

Randy Brooke/Getty Images for Kanye West Yeezy
Kanye West poses during the finale of Yeezy Season 2 during New York Fashion Week at Skylight Modern on Sept. 16, 2015 in New York City.  

Yeezy Season 3, which will be streamed in 700 theaters across 23 different countries, marks the first time that tickets to a New York Fashion Week show will have ever been purchasable by the general public (prices ranged from $50-135 and sold out in 10 minutes, according to West's tweets) and the setup goes entirely against the exclusivity that fashion shows have maintained for buyers and editors since their inception in the early 20th century. Though things like live streaming and behind-the-scenes Instagrams have made fashion week experiences more inclusive, fans themselves have never been allowed to buy access to seats. 

"I think public access to fashion shows is only increasing," Vogue contributing editor Andre Leon Talley notes. "And [Kanye] has his own way of creating change, maybe it’s his moment for MSG and the consumer. Beyonce created the moment this weekend with that video. They're both cultural spokespeople through artistry."

In recent seasons, notable designers have begun inching closer to their fans. Marc Jacobs had models parade outside of his Ziegfeld Theatre-staged show in September, and last week Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne had models march around the block for a group of fashion students and Instagram followers before entering the official venue. But literally banking on the public’s interest? West will be the first, and the move comes at a moment when the fashion industry’s infrastructure is being challenged by the digital era's relentless pace.

Kanye West to Debut Album During Yeezy Season 3 Event at Madison Square Garden

Last week, for example, Burberry announced plans to radically change the way it interacts with the people who purchase their clothes. Rather than show ready-to-wear collections six months in advance of their in-store availability, the British label will show immediately buyable, seasonless men’s and women’s collections together on the runway twice a year. On Friday, Tom Ford announced that he would be doing the same, stating that “we have been living with a fashion calendar and system that is from another era.” 

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for adidas
Alexander Wang and Rihanna attend the adidas Originals x Kanye West YEEZY SEASON 1 fashion show during New York Fashion Week Fall 2015 at Skylight Clarkson Sq on Feb. 12, 2015 in New York City.  


"The traditional fashion show model is currently in a tremendous state of reinvention," explains Ken Downing, the senior vice president and Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus. "Technology, driven by the enormity of social media that covers the fashion industry continues to reshape our ideas of how we look at the runway and presentations today."  

Though Yeezy Season 3 won't be instantly shoppable, it is part of a larger movement that is looking to energize the consumer by bringing them into the experience. West is including his consumer in the most literal way through ticket access, and in the process, he might be tampering with what fashion consultant Julie Gilhart calls "fashion tied to emotion of the moment" -- purchases more readily made because of their emotional connection and closeness.

"Designers and creators want to communicate and connect with their end consumer directly, not only through a clothing rack," says Mazdack Rassi, the creative director and co-founder of Made Fashion Week and Milk Studios. "Consumers and designers rely on each other for identity and creativity. And that's one of the most beautiful parts of art and fashion."

In the same way ticket sales for live shows have remained reliable sources of income for musicians, one day audiences might be able to do the same for fashion houses on a smaller but still impactful scale. No designer has the fandom of the Grammy Award-winning West -- even industry visionaries like Karl Lagerfeld and Raf Simons couldn’t sell out 20,000-person arenas. But a ticket to their shows? There are scores of people who would want in, and as overall sales in the multi-billion-dollar industry continue to slip, one can't help but think West might just be on to something.