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Kanye West’s second Yeezy show at New York’s Fashion Week (screenshot via malinajoseph/Instagram)

In the blur of fabric and fanfare that was New York Fashion Week, Kanye West’s second Yeezy show caused the most confusion of all. Never one to be burdened by civil convention, West announced his addition to the event roster mere days before the show. Ruffled feathers didn’t keep the fashion hawks at bay, though, and the packed house was treated to a spring line that looked almost exactly like his debut fall collection from earlier this year. The rapper/designer once again presented flesh-toned, pared-down casual wear that begged the question: is this show even about the clothes?

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Yeezy, Spring 2016 (via @kanyewest)

West’s repeat collaboration with Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft on the show’s choreography suggests that this may be as much of a performance practice as it is a Project Runway pantomime. It’s certainly no secret that West likes to think of himself as an artist — he’s already compared himself to Marina Abramovic and he now holds a PhD from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Beecroft is thankfully no stranger to the fashion, either, as her work has often featured monochrome models standing around looking miserable, much like they did for last week’s Yeezy event.

Many of Beecroft’s performances have critiqued the fashion world by revealing the industry’s exploitative use (and misuse) of the female body. Funnily enough, the artist’s work has been criticized on similar grounds — she’s been lambasted for underpaying her models and forcing them to stand for hours in ill-fitting, blood-drawing shoes. Instead of subverting the industry norm, Beecroft has unapologetically confirmed it in service of her own creative vision. Indeed, after a 2008 documentary was released on Beecroft’s attempted adoption of two Sudanese babies to use as subjects in her work, a Vulture article called her a “hypocritically self-aware, colossally colonial pomo narcissist.”

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Yeezy, Spring 2016 (via @kanyewest)

Beecroft’s self-aggrandizing, pseudo-cultural critique is evident in the Yeezy spring line, too. While the clothes might have been the draw, the models’ bodies seemed the real focus. Grouped and dressed according to their skin tone, they were marched down the runway in phalanx formation, while a drill sergeant barked orders at them. Pale blondes in beige led the charge, taupe-clad brunettes made up the middle, and dark-skinned models in brown and black brought up the rear. In a year plagued by perpetual racial tension, the show seems an overt reference to cultural trends — the #blacklivesmatter movement, mass incarceration, the recent @IStandWithAhmed story, etc. — versus fashion trends.

In a post-show Vogue interview, however, West denied that there was any intentional social commentary. Instead, he referred to it as “just a painting, just using clothing as a canvas of proportion and color.” Beecroft has similarly referred to her staged performances as “living paintings,” so perhaps he is deferring to her obtuse style of artistic accountability. But coming from the same guy that claimed George W. Bush hates black people, it’s hard to imagine there’s not a nod to racial inequality in the US. As an artist and designer, West should embrace politicizing his fashion line — it can only help his 2020 bid for president.

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Vanessa Beecroft, “SHOW” (1998) at the Guggenheim Museum (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic via YouTube)

Margaret Carrigan

Margaret Carrigan is a New York-based writer with a penchant for art, architecture, cats, cooking, and 20-minute YouTube yoga videos. She holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign....

7 replies on “The Social Commentary Hidden in Kanye West and Vanessa Beecroft’s Fashion Show”

  1. Despite his vague explanation, I think he is one of the few in his position to be bold enough to express concerns on the issue. Its almost become cliche to talk about race because we’re suppose to be “over it” or “beyond” the topic.

    1. Where the heck do you get the idea that we are supposed to be over or beyond race and talking about race? I mean.. besides the white people constantly crowing about us being beyond and over race specifically so no one talks about the realities of race at all.

  2. Kanye and Beecroft may work together so often and so well because of the vapidity of both as well as the desire of those pushing their work for their own profit and cache to vastly overinflate the quality of their work.

  3. Fugly clothes. Who wears Kayne’s crap? The only people who seem to wear his crap are his despicable in-laws.

    1. Have you bothered to find out how much sales he is made out of his clothes? Or you are driven by malice and hate? Of course you may not like him or his clothes, that is your right, but we have to agree that other people like him and his clothes. And, like it or not, this guy is enterprising, he tries his best, even if he is well aware that haters will try to demean and blackmail him. The good thing is – Kanye is not bothered, as people like you continue criticizing him he is happily laughing his way to the bank.

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