It looked like the top of a chocolate soufflé at first, the parachute fabric that puffed into the shape of a dome and spread across the floor of Madison Square Garden as the nearly 20,000 guests trickled in for Kanye West‘s Yeezy Season 3 event — arguably this season’s most anticipated New York Fashion Week show. It was evident from the moment it began that the show would channel the sort of scale that Parisian fashion houses like Dior, Louis Vuitton and Chanel are known for (Karl Lagerfeld, for example, transformed the Grand Palais into a flight terminal for his spring collection in September). But ultimately, it was hard to compare the event to any other fashion show that has come before it.
Fashion editors were present: personal shout-outs to Anna Wintour (“I told [her] backstage a dream of mine is to be the creative director of Hermes for a few years”) and Carine Roitfeld (“Thank you for being a real bitch, I appreciate you”) were made. Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing, who designed the pink and white attire the Kardashians wore on Thursday, was thanked — and there were plenty of fashion fans who waited outside and never got in. “I’m here for the clothes, definitely the clothes,” said a teen dressed in Yeezy Boost 350’s who had waited for two hours in 24-degree weather.
But if you stripped away the music (which happened to be from West’s next album, The Life of Pablo), took away the cups of Budweiser, the cameo by Naomi Campbell and tuned out the moment when the crowd broke into a “F— Nike” chant, there was the somberness of what appeared when that brown parachute fabric was pulled away.
Enlisting the help of contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft, West used the stage to re-create the 1995 Paul Lowe photograph that was taken during the Rwandan genocide. Men and women, both models and extras, were separated and raised atop two parallel platforms — all wearing looks from the new collection. And as the camera panned across the mostly nude, merlot and marigold-hued hoodies, coats, bralets and trousers, the models’ faces and demeanor projected brokenness.
It was hard to truly absorb it all, and West never acknowledged the heaviness of the subject, focusing instead on celebrating the album and the clothes. “You know, I think y’all might think that because I’m a celebrity and I rap that this shit is easy to do,” he told the crowd. “But one of the hardest things to do was to get the talented people that worked on the collection to believe in my vision. I want to thank Adidas for paying for this and supporting me.”
Many critics have expressed their distaste for West’s sartorial endeavors. This season’s collection introduced some new pieces (a cropped bomber, lucite-heeled boots) but closely resembled seasons one and two. And while the rapper has been vocal about his desire to join the ranks of fashion’s most prolific figures, the Yeezy show-meets-listening session-meets-performance art digressed from the medium in a more overtly commercial way when West began spotlighting his upcoming video game (which depicts a cartoon version of his late mother Donda, ascending to heaven).
“If you’re gonna be an artist, you gotta do what’s in your heart. Fight for your dream. I mean, [I made] the number one shoe,” he said, referencing the Yeezy sneaker before showing the video game snippet once more. “The number one christmas present.” In the end, it wasn’t much of a fashion show, but it certainly was a spectacle.