The Kanye decade
Text Jacopo Bedussi
There’s just one slight problem hindering my point of view on influence by the black scene in this blob called Streetwear: I am a white European. As such, I unfortunately have more questions than answers.
Kanye West definitely has something to do with it. Back when no one had any idea, in other words, before his success and subsequent I am The Word stage, he was an intern at Fendi along with Virgil Abloh, investing time and energy into an asset that in the long-term would see the cash roll in. Perhaps even then he was drawing up a plan of attack for those geese and their golden eggs that, a few years later, would take shape in the form of Yeezy and Off-White (formerly Pyrex Vision).
The outcome took various directions, with Abloh trying to insert political appeals into his shows—is political an actual “thing” in 2018? but that’s another story–for progressivism and common sense. Using notions of contemporary art reduced to the max to add intellectual value to collections that cannot work on cuts and volumes and structural daring. So, sort of Warhol with Caravaggio prints as logos on Tees and sweats, a bit Kosuth with tautologies (in inverted commas) and a bit Duchamp, which goes with everything, and Martin Margiela as the saint of destructuring and conceptualism.
West plays all-in. His line produced with Adidas enjoys a frenzied rush in its early seasons, then tails off just as quickly, buried even by mistreated journalists at a less than successful show in New York featuring diva-style delays by Kanye, petulant abandoning of front rows and poor models fainting in the heat. Today it has been relegated to the level of provincial wannabes or West Hollywood klutzes. He appears to be losing it big time, what with endorsements of Trump (who welcomed him to the Oval Office with a hug), pathological lying, phony bipolar affectations and neglect of social media due to an unhealthy obsession that we could chalk up to the list of white girl problems.
A cliché is probably the best way to sum up these two stories of success: their strategy is based not so much on a new way of joining and acting in the fashion business, but more on a copy and paste of a banal (albeit desirable) white male capitalist success with the asset of black pride. Kanye and Abloh’s references and collaboration partners suggest that the black American Culture is not central to their storytelling. It is in there somewhere, but it is not the pivotal theme of the brand’s deep tale.
If we take a closer look at their runway hype, on the Old Continent such as Milan, and even more so Paris, the front rows at those shows where paparazzis come to blows and throngs of kids scream in Beatlemania style, are mainly American and black. Like the runway debut of 1017 Alyx 9sm by Matthew Williams at the PFW, a niche brand for “sector operators”, which brought Kanye West, Virgil Abloh, Asap Rocky, Ian Connor, Asap Bari and Skepta together, just to mention those I had opposite me. For three whole days Instagram was all over it like a rash.
You need only to look just a little further, beyond the more mainstream ferment that is also stirred by television and the glossies, fin de siècle grotesque, to find brands and designers who are managing to analyse a different contemporary situation. Telfar Clemens, for example, and his tale of a New York style coolness that is all about discount shopping at Century 21, down in the financial district, for kids wowed by the glam of avant-garde European magazines. A project that embodies a post Dapper Dan and Paris is burning feel.
In London, Martine Rose and Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall*, for a generation raised on the streets of what used to be Cool Britannia and now ready to question the political aspects of a social pact that is not respecting promises made in the pre global crisis era. They discuss the contradictions between the disillusioned progressive parents (who, the saying goes, are always wrong) and the children with their uncertain future, a real case of civil society immobilised by hierarchy. Grace Wales Bonner, English with a diploma from CSM, criticises and proposes alternatives to the unbalanced Europe/Africa relations, focusing on historical and cultural sources, on battles and inappropriate appropriation, restoring dignity to an exploited continent.
The scenario is vast and bubbling with treasures under the obliging veil of millionaire streetwear. It is up to the ranks of sector operators in the cultural fashion industry to walk down paths paved with something other than money, following the roads of uncertainty.