The Fashion Industry vs. Ye
If you’ve not been sleeping under a rock, then you’re already well aware of the controversy Ye (the rapper formally known as Kanye West) caused on Monday with his impromptu YZYSZN9 show. Taking place off-schedule (in a packed Paris Fashion Week and against usual protocol), Ye took to a warehouse to display his new collection. It featured a T-shirt that has since gone on to dictate much of the dialogue in the fashion community. Reading “White Lives Matter” on the rear, with a picture of Pope John Paul II on the front alongside the words “Seguiremos tu ejemplo” (translating to “We will follow your example),” the tee has gone on to cause a media uprising. Ye’s use of a slogan adopted by white supremacist groups led showgoers and editors alike to leave the event when it was shown. The implications of such a statement are deemed harmful per connotations of right-wing rhetoric, leading many fashion week attendees and editors alike to speak up.
Emma Davidson, Dazed’s Fashion Features Editor, noted in her piece: “With or without context, the ‘White Lives Matter’ message is irrefutably harmful and Kanye’s inclusion of the statement is completely irresponsible. In emblazoning a T-shirt that he has designed ‘for everyone’ with something that has been classified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate slogan.” Davidson also pointed out the dangers in Ye’s actions: “If a Black man can utilize, commodify, and project a racist message, that is rooted in white supremacy and favored by the Klu Klux Klan, then why can’t everyone else?”
Denim Tears founder and Supreme Creative Director Tremaine Emory also spoke out after Ye targeted Editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson – one of a few Black women at her level in the industry – who expressed her views on the show after attending. In an Instagram post, Emory said (sic): “YOU ARE SO BROKEN. KEEP VIRGIL NAME OUT YOUR MOUTH…KEEP @gabriellak_j NAME OUT YOUR MOUTH…Your not a victim your just an insecure narcissist that’s dying for validation from the fashion world…take care.”
That last statement is particularly poignant, as it seems Ye has been asking for acceptance from the fashion industry for more than a decade now. This season, he showed up at Burberry and Givenchy, while also walking for Balenciaga, promoting the idea he was there to support his peers. Yet, by showing the tee at the YZY show and, in turn, putting showgoers in a position they did not condone and thus leaving, his supportive efforts were undermined.
Jaden Smith and Editor Lynette Nylander walked out of the show. Many took their frustrations to social media – “As if the ‘honor’ of being invited to your show should keep someone from giving their opinion,” commented Gigi Hadid under one of Ye’s now-deleted posts about Karefa-Johnson. “I also don’t think you should insult that writer,” said Mowalola Ogunlesi in a text to Ye.
It might feel redundant to give more airtime to Ye, but the circumstances this time are different. It’s no longer just the points he has made, but also the points the industry makes back. As Raven Smith writes for Vogue, “His thinking is constantly intriguing; there is a sense that he’s operating from somewhere we can’t quite grasp, somewhere other. He is a master of keeping us talking about him, of provoking discourse, of jabbing at our sometimes-performative wokeness. We’ve seen him in a MAGA hat. We’ve seen him at the White House with Donald Trump. And now he’s matching ‘White Lives Matter’ shirts with Candace Owens.” Answering this is The Face, delivering a headline that sums up the conversation entirely: We hardly knew Ye? We knew him all too well.
But what does the fashion industry’s backlash mean for the billionaire mogul who had an inescapable influence over Paris Fashion week? And more importantly, what does it mean for the fashion industry?
The industry’s response has been unified and rooted in journalistic integrity, standing up for Black Lives Matter, Karefa-Johnson, and freedom of speech. Together, the industry is holding Ye accountable for his words, which is exactly the kind of editorial activism that should take place. Especially when one of our own is in the middle of this specifically-targeted toxicity.
Moreover, while holding Ye accountable is one thing – what about YZYSZN9’s ghost designers? The production team, the names behind YZY, and those who decided to support Ye in his “creativity?”
We saw it with Dolce & Gabanna’s recent Kim Kardashian co-signed collection with various editors choosing to boycott the show. We’ve previously seen Gosha Rubchinskiy, Alexander Wang, A$AP Bari, and many others rightly critiqued for crossing the line politically, racially, or because of sexual assault. Ye – who has a penchant for working with controversial figures like the alleged sex abuser Marilyn Manson – has of course been criticized en masse. But now the industry is rallying against him.
The fashion industry has shown how to respond with unity and strength in front of a figure seemingly desperate to divide – and this is something that we could all learn from and apply when it comes to other current and future provocateurs. Accountability and fact-based reportage are foundations of journalism. The industry taking such a strong stand against Ye’s narcissism proves that there is a community of figureheads who stand for inclusivity and creativity.
From an outsider’s perspective, fashion weeks are nothing but a nice occasion to get dressed up for. But as we know, it’s actually a time for creatives to spill their artistic juices; for writers, photographers, buyers and tastemakers to get inspired. But this Paris Fashion Week has shown that the community can also come together for a much bigger cause. The media’s mass cancelation of Ye has proven that this kind of toxicity isn’t to be accepted any longer. If we’ve learned anything from the past week’s antics, it’s that the future of fashion is in safe hands. A new generation of writers and influencers are paving the way for a fairer, kinder and more honest industry – and not one living in the antiquated and stereotyped past
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