Kanye West says ‘I’m not a designer,’ but he’s learning


One of the most-talked-about shows during New York Fashion Week belonged to Kanye West, the rap artist and aspiring fashion designer.

When he unveiled his collaborative apparel and footwear collection with Adidas Originals on Feb. 12, the first thing guests heard was West (presumably speaking live from backstage) starting out on the defensive. “There are a series of people who, like, just write negative comments,” said West, who was burned by mixed-to-poor reviews when he showed his fledgling DW Kanye West label in Paris in 2011. “They want to joke around and say: ‘Why is he still trying?’ You know, if I see something — if I see opportunity — I’m going to go for it, I’m going to crack the pavement and make new ground....”

After he continued to ramble for another minute and a half, the lights came up to reveal possibly the highest-wattage front-row lineup in New York Fashion Week history, including designer Alexander Wang; pop stars Rihanna, Diddy, Jay Z and Beyoncé; Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour; and West’s reality star wife, Kim Kardashian West.


The Kanye West X Adidas Originals Yeezy Season 1 that followed encompassed men’s pieces including bomber jackets with oversize flap pockets, collarless blouson jackets, oversized artfully distressed sweats and T-shirts in camel, olive drab and camouflage. The women’s collection was more on the curve-hugging side, including tube dresses, body-conscious knit skirts and crop tops made from Adidas socks.

In the show notes, West’s stated goal was “to absolve consumers of dressing’s daily stress by creating a line of high-quality essentials that can be freely combined in infinite ways — like Legos.” And indeed the collection seemed to be a good start — on trend, not overwrought and serving up plenty of wearable pieces.

The next day, between rehearsing for the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary show and heading off to take in Alexander Wang’s runway show that evening, West sat in the lobby of SoHo’s Mercer Hotel scrolling through a laptop, holding brief one-on-one interviews with the press. For the most part, it was Kanye being Kanye as he held forth on topics such as his goal (“I want to bring high design to the people,” he said. “I’m on a Robin Hood mission”) and his inspiration for the collaboration’s sophomore season (“High schools — that’s all I can tell you.” ) but the 21-time Grammy winner did say something surprising — “I’m not a designer.”

“I [just] have a vision for something,” he said. “And I knew that if I was allowed to play in the sandbox next to real designers that I could come up with some solutions.

“And I’m trying to get this point across: When I did ‘The College Dropout’ [his debut album] I had a perspective but I didn’t rap as good as I do now. So what’s fun is that I can keep getting better and that I have a place where I can learn. Even the best designers living right now can’t become Prada overnight. I didn’t just wake up with the sensibility of [Christian Dior creative director] Raf Simons or something, but I’ve got a purpose and a reason and I’m learning in front of people.”

It’s worth pondering, just for a moment, what the reaction would have been like if West had said that in his pre-show voice-over.