I might as well declare an interest at the start: I think Kanye West is onto something with the Adidas Originals collection he showed in New York last week. Processing the lessons of the two poorly received ready-to-wear collections he showed in Paris in 2011/2012, he has landed on a new approach, almost in the way that many tech startups these days pivot until they find the path to success. The impetus behind his Adidas line, which is essentially to bring the same level of integrity to mass-market clothing that a company like Apple brings to its products, seems to me a valid and timely one. It’s too early to say if he will succeed—among other things, there is the irony of one of the most visible people on the planet looking to produce clothing that’s almost invisible in its utilitarianism—but when you look at what else exists in the market, I wouldn’t bet against him. Of course, with West, things never proceed in a straightforward manner, and some of his message was lost in the furor around the show in New York. Two days after the presentation, I sat down with him at the Mercer Hotel in New York to talk about his Adidas plans, his insistence that he doesn’t listen to what critics say about him (not always true in my experience), and why he’s opposed to the elitism of luxury fashion. He started by pulling up some images of the collection that had just been shot in the studio.
It’s quite daring to keep clothes that simple. Nearly every designer over-embellishes and over-designs, and then people don’t actually want to wear the clothes.
I wouldn’t consider myself to be a designer in that way, I just want to propose a solution to problems that me and my wife and my friends face. I sit with a group of problem solvers and say, “In this situation, I would like to have this.” And then from my art background—from my heart background—I have a perspective on color that I’ve always wanted to get across. What I thought was interesting was taking a red and doing it in a sports bra, and as opposed to the usual super-techy fabrics that people use for gym clothes, to really have more of a dry approach to the gym clothes. Even with the way we took Adidas socks and turned them into sports bras. It’s like, “What is almost like Alaïa that you can sweat in?” A sock! And it had to only be the sports bra because it looked really funny once [it] started going into the biking shorts. I tried that and that didn’t come out so well.
And did Adidas give you a completely free hand to do whatever you like? How was working with them?
No, they put some boundaries, but solutions come from boundaries. I stepped in, we had to learn [to work with] each other. I had to learn what my voice was because I was still coming off of doing crocodile this and almost irresponsible takes on designing clothes to make up for a lack of skill. And now I have a real purpose to what I want to present. Adidas is the perfect place to be. If someone was to say, “Hey, do you want to go to a high-end house now?” I’d absolutely say no. I’m not trying to [sound] presumptuous, I’m just saying that if in my wildest dreams I was presented with the opportunity, I would absolutely say no at this point. Because I’m only concerned with making beautiful products available to as many people as possible … The least I could do is spend my time trying to give other people a piece of the so-called good life. Everyone should have the good life. It’s like [Amancio] Ortega [founder of Zara] and H&M group. Before that happened, you could tell who came from money, who didn’t, who had a bigger paycheck, who didn’t. It was about separation and I think high fashion is about elitism and separation, and I am completely opposed to that … [though] I’ll still go to crash the Saint Laurent fashion show so I can be closer to the genius that Hedi [Slimane] has, even if the prices aren’t genius, even though the prices are completely unfair.
It’s funny that you bring up Hedi Slimane because of the reaction on our site in the comments section. Your work is very different, but the only two people who get that extreme a reaction, for and against, are Hedi and you. I don’t know what inspires people to either absolutely hate it or absolutely love it, but there’s no in-between with you. Have you looked at the comments on this collection? Have you seen what people are saying?
Oh, no, they just need to have the clothing. Anyone that has a negative comment just needs to have the clothing in their life. I don’t need to read that because it’s not going to inspire me in any way. I don’t need any more negativity in my life [laughs] to make me work harder. I can’t possibly physically work harder. I have to tell myself to go to sleep.
What about the reviews? Did you look at the reviews, or are you in a place now where you don’t care about that kind of thing?
I don’t read the reviews, because it’s some kind of backhanded compliment or something focusing on not the main point. It was really difficult to do this. It would be difficult to make a proposition this simple for any designer. So many people told me that it had to have logos or it had to have this, but I fought for exactly what I wanted in my closet. I fought for what was true to me … There are a lot of kids in the streets that have waited for someone to speak for them and what they’re doing and for them to connect with it directly. And that’s what I’m here to do. Just as the last photo showed you, I’ve got an army behind me, so unless the reviewer is recognizing the army, they’re not recognizing the tank coming. I mean, I don’t know if people felt this, but it’s too late. Like the Drake album says, if you’re reading this, it’s already too late. If you’re seeing this, it’s already too late.
“I don’t want to disrespect designers by calling myself a designer. I just think I have a vision of something that I want to do.”
Tell me about the casting. It was every different type of body. Was that always in your mind as you were designing?
One hundred percent. Do you know how many fights I’ve had with intellectual fashion people about the idea of putting bodies on the—I won’t even call it the runway. What would you call a place where a military brigade stands? It’s no longer called the runway for me.
The parade grounds, maybe?
Yes, the grounds. Because in an army, people are different sizes. No one says you can’t join the army unless you’re 6’2″. People sometimes ask, “Why does Kanye West pander to fashion in this way?” I don’t pander to it, I’m trying to learn from it. Because I believe there’s some information in it that can help people have better lives. And it’s being held and blocked and not given to the people. So this is very much a Robin Hood approach that I have to making clothes. Before, the companies, the big groups, the LVMHs, the Kering Groups, created the workplace [for] the beautiful souls that go and dream of fashion their entire lives. [They] go to the Harvard of design, Parsons, or the Yale of design, Saint Martins, they dream of one day being a part of the magic that fashion week creates and what these lines create. And they felt that if they worked in mass [market], which had—past tense—a negative connotation, that their dreams would be stepped on, crushed, and they would be thrown in some office in the garment district and never get to feel the glory of the true Paris runway. But when I did concerts, two, three years ago, when [Central Saint Martins] professor Louise Wilson was alive, I’d give 100, 200 free tickets to Saint Martins students in London. I did runway shows—one of the things that was successful about the runway shows is that there are people that I hired straight out of Saint Martins that went on to work for Balmain, that went on to work for Givenchy. And that made me a part of the system, as opposed to when you think of the idea of a celebrity hiring somebody, you’d be more embarrassed to have that name on your résumé. And now, I’ve got such a hard reputation of screaming, of doing this type of thing, if you’ve got my name on your résumé—
You can handle anything?
You can handle anything! [laughs] It’s like New York City, the person. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. But seriously, because we don’t take the shit. So now I’m able to go and hire people directly from Parsons, people directly from Saint Martins, and that was the key. These super-dreamers, these super-passionate people, these super-special spirits and souls—they were looking for a place to go. And now we have a place where you not only can create in an environment that’s comparable to creating at a fashion house or creating at Apple or at Pixar, but also you can connect with people the way that H&M or Zara or, of course, Adidas can connect with people.
Do you feel that high fashion is sort of old-fashioned in a way?
I believe the category of ready-to-wear should be removed. I’m biased, but I think the best red-carpet look of all time—if not, one of the top five—was my wife’s look at the Grammys. You know what [Jean Paul Gaultier] just did. He said, “Fuck the shit. I’m making real shit. I’m doing perfume and couture.” And by focusing on that, he delivered … I just think for me as a person that dresses the most photographed person in the world, I get bored with ready-to-wear really easily. Here’s this glamorous being, this modern-day Helmut Newton girl, and you just get this “mid” thing. I just feel like we’ve been hit with this barrage of extreme medium. And you never go and ask, “Hey, can I get an extreme medium?”
Tell me about dressing Kim. Why is that important to you? Do you see it as similar to your design process, dressing her?
It’s learning. She was always my muse, now she’s become other designers’ muses. Or designers’ muses, because like I said, I don’t want to disrespect designers by calling myself a designer, I just think I have a vision of something that I want to do. But God has a special way to teach people through life. I guess I got a little more credit for my second collection than my first, for whatever that is worth. But soon as we started dating, fashion people were really opposed to the idea of reality stars. And all the relationships, the somewhat friends that I had somewhat built up, completely turned their backs on her and me. They already had their back to her, and now they turned it to me. The so-called traction that I was getting in the high-fashion world was completely thrown out the window and I was finally allowed to go to school, where every day I was in my mom [Kris Jenner]’s house, in my little brother’s old room, Rob’s old room, re-tailoring a Céline skirt, re-tailoring a Saint Laurent jacket, re-tailoring a Zara top, re-tailoring Wolford … And day by day by day, [Kim and I] learned, we got better. We looked at the photographs together and she improved my style, we improved each other.
That’s fascinating because a lot of designers don’t work with a woman’s body like that. I think that’s one of the problems with fashion right now, so I find it fascinating that you’re working directly with her.
With the body of all bodies, right?
And a different body than you see in fashion most of the time. That’s what we were talking about with the Adidas collection.
And how do you present that in a way that’s sexy and still dignified. And that’s part of the reason why I work with really strong women, like Vanessa [Beecroft, the artist who staged the Adidas show], that will not allow a woman to even be halfway disrespected. It’s such a far cry from what you would traditionally hear and see in rap. It was a complete new education.
“Soon as we started dating, fashion people completely turned their backs on her and me. They already had their back to her, and now they turned it to me.”
We can talk about the staging. First of all, I have to ask you about the wait. People did have to wait a long time outside. Is this something that you would have done differently in retrospect?
Yeah, I apologize that people had to wait. That’s definitely not something I did on purpose. I actually had no idea what time it was. I wasn’t looking at the clock or in charge of that. It’s literally my first proposition in three years. So I apologize for the wait, to the people that had to actually wait at the New York fashion show. I apologize to the kids that had to wait in the 42 theaters where we streamed the show across the globe, I apologize to them for the wait. Let me just explain something to everyone. I’m sorry. I’m a human being. I’ve got opinions, I’m not always right, I’m not always on time, I don’t always say things in the proper way, but my intentions are always extremely pure. My purpose is extremely just.
Did you feel that you needed the voiceover at the beginning of the show? Why not let the clothes just speak for themselves at that point?
I think that question is a little bit offensive.
The reason I’m asking is because the wait and then the voiceover set it up for the audience to not be on your side when it started, I’m not asking to try to offend you…
This audience isn’t on my side, anyways. It’s the fashion audience. They’re not even on their own side.
That’s true. So, tell me about the clothes. I think you said you started working on the collection 18 months ago?
I started 18 years ago. I mean, if we’re talking about the wait, what about my wait? These photographs right here that I’m showing you of these garments and how they’ve been presented, in my opinion are equal to any—not equal to Miuccia [Prada], but equal to a lot of things that are considered to be high-end. What else do you want from me? It’s hard, it’s hard for everyone, and it was a thousand times harder for me. I’m not trying to, you know—I didn’t even want to focus on any of the issues that I’ve already said, it’s like, just listen to the old interviews, and anyone that is more offended by the words that I said at the beginning than inspired, you know, I’m the spark. It’s up to people to be oil or water. If you’re water, your life’s already over. If you’re oil, like the age of the kids that were standing there, you’ll probably be sparked and do something really dynamic in life.
You said 18 years—I’d like to talk about that. When did you first become interested in fashion? Was it while you were growing up or later that you became more interested in that?
It’s in my code. I went to my grandfather’s funeral and my cousin stood up and told this story about how he won best-dressed in high school because his mom was a tailor. And I looked to the left of me and the lady was just as—and I hate this word—but just as chic … I dislike the concept of chic being the highest compliment for a human being. I’d rather someone be nice than to be chic. But regardless, this person that was sitting to the left side of me was both nice and chic. And to the right side, this person was also extremely nice and chic and a real person in Oklahoma City. And I looked at the entire funeral and I said to myself, This looks just as good, if not better, than fashion shows that I go to in Paris. And I realized that it had all been a scam, that it had all been smoke and mirrors to present this concept that a straight black guy out of Chicago that’s a rapper, that’s married to a reality star, could somehow not design a coat, that can’t design a T-shirt, that can’t have enough of an opinion. You know, it’s like voting. Fashion is merely an opinion. And I’ve got a lot of opinions.
I’ve heard that about you.
Adidas allowed me to be in a position to give mine.
There was that article in The New York Times at the weekend that talked about the lack of diversity in fashion, that there are not many black designers in fashion. Is that something that you think about?
Racism and the focus on racism is a distraction to humanity. It would be like focusing on the cousin from your mom’s side versus the cousin on your dad’s side. We’re all cousins. We’re all the same race. To even focus on the concept of race, it’s like—perhaps people give me an extra cookie for the fact that my color palette is so controlled and I’m black. When someone that’s like, racist, comes up to me at A.P.C. and says, “I thought it would be a bunch of animals on your shirts,” because they heard that I rapped. But it just makes the journey interesting. We came into a broken world. And we’re the cleanup crew. And we’re only cleaning up by helping each other.
Coming back to reviews, you did learn from the two shows in Paris, and I don’t know if that was because of what was written or your own experience. You said that to me earlier, that’s why your focus is so strong here, because you went through that.
It had nothing to do with people’s words, it had to do with experience. I went to Hawaii for eight months and worked on Dark Fantasy because I had the resources and I had the record deal to do it. I could be like Nicolas [Ghesquière] or Karl [Lagerfeld] in the music space because I had the resources. And every designer out there knows. You talk to Haider Ackermann, you talk to any of these guys, they know that resources are so important—the proper backing, the proper CEOs, the proper distribution, the proper fabrics, the proper production person in the studio. And to make an entire team work together with the kind of egos that come along in fashion is practically impossible for anyone. And that’s why people take those luxury deals because they know that these bankers will give them a proper structure. Every designer, whether you go to Kering Group or Jones Group, you want a structure. An artist needs a structure so that they can be an artist. There’s no comment that would have given me the structure. I had to go and meet CEO by CEO by CEO, fabric person by fabric person by fabric person, designer by designer by designer. So anyone that’s out there that gave me a bad review on my first collection and felt that that helped me do better now, fuck you. You didn’t help me. You just talked. And then you talked about the next show.
“You guys know my fucking influences. You see Raf Simons right there, you see Helmut, you see Margiela … It’s blatantly right there.”
Do you feel you have that structure now with Adidas, with the team?
I have a slightly better structure.
It’s not where you want it to be, but it’s on the way?
It’s on the way. We’re constantly growing, we’re constantly building. I mean, this is the beginning of something really big. This is the beginning of something truly democratic. You know, I am here to take the best talents from fashion and give them to the people. Constantly. It’s not some weird promotional lineup BS, like Versace doing something for H&M and for that one moment in someone’s life they can have the one shirt.
So when’s it going to be in stores?
We’re going to do some injections within the next three months. The camouflage pieces will be out within the next three months. I want to point out one thing to all the people who only work in fashion and don’t really take full consideration of this thing called the real world. People say, “Hey, Kanye, you’re going against all odds.” And I say, wait a second, the shoes sold out within the first 10 minutes. 9,000 shoes. So everyone, the odds are with me. The people are with me. Now it’s up to you to choose whether or not I’m chic enough to sit at your dinner table. And I could give a fuck about your dinner table, by the way. I’ve got my own petrified Rick Owens table in my house. Is that chic enough?
I think I’ve got my headline for the homepage. So the sneakers sold out, 9,000 pairs, but the clothes—are they going to be limited edition?
I hate the concept of limited edition completely. I hate the concept of separatism. Elitism. Classism. We’re all equal. The only thing that’s valuable is time. It’s the only thing we can’t get back. The only luxury is time. Let’s stop playing games with each other and let’s start helping each other. If someone really feels that there’s something that I can improve on, do like Pat McGrath and come to the fucking show and help me. Do like Vanessa Beecroft and come and help me. Because I’m not here for this to be about me. I’m here to help people. I’m here to help the 14-year-old version of myself that couldn’t afford shit.
How much will the camo jacket be?
Not as cheap as I would like it to be. We’re working on the prices now, I don’t have the exact prices. But what I will tell you is that we’ll eventually get them super-inexpensive. And it will be all about everyone having them.
Did you look to anyone, like Margiela, Helmut Lang. What influences—
You guys know my fucking influences. I’ve got four influences and it’s written all over the face, you know the combination. Just as much as Drake is influenced by Kanye West, you know my fucking influences. You see Raf Simons right there, you see Helmut, you see Margiela, you see Vanessa [Beecroft], you see Katharine Hamnett. It’s blatantly right there. I’m not going to try and act like I was influenced by a fucking dog walking down the street that broke its ankle that I had a heartfelt discussion with. I had a heartfelt discussion with all of these fucking Helmut Lang images that I stared at for so many years. I had a heartfelt discussion with my Tumblr.
The point is you’re choosing your influences. I know, for example, you’re a fan of Thom Browne, but you’re not looking to Thom Browne here. You’re choosing what’s relevant.
Also, workwear, utility, the idea of being a dad, no time to look in the mirror because I’m looking at my daughter, I’m looking at my wife. And I’ve got to take her to dance class.
“One of my dreams is to be the head creative director of the Gap. I’d like to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap.”
Let’s talk about the personal evolution of your style.
I also just wanted to say a major influence was the London riots because I was living in London at that time and saw the way that the kids wanted the clothes and I didn’t have the skill set to do the more inexpensive clothes. This designer said to me one time, we were looking at something online, “This looks like a really bad couture designer that no one knows.” Think about the idea of a really terrible couture designer, which there are a lot of. I didn’t have the skill set to do inexpensive clothes. Now I have a team of really, really great designers that speak in a very Apple, Pixar-type [way].
A lot of it seems to me to come from your personal style, too, especially as it’s developed over the last couple of years. Would you say that’s true in the Adidas collection?
Oh, yeah, definitely. With my first collections, they would say, “I want to see more of you.” And I didn’t even know who I was. And it was far less defined who I was, and I didn’t know who I was until I had a daughter. And then I realized that the purpose of life was to protect her and my wife at all costs. And that is who I am.
I know you have a lot of respect for Ralph Lauren, and there is something very democratic about the way that Ralph designs. It’s not just high-end runway, it’s something people wear through every aspect of their lives. Is Ralph someone you admire in that sense?
Ralph is the god. And that’s all I want to say about Ralph.
With the collaboration you did with A.P.C., did you feel that it was a stepping stone in this direction and now you’ve sort of gone all the way?
Yeah, there are a lot of similarities to the collaboration. You know, there were walls of class to be broken. I felt it was important for me to present in a fashion context, to earn a cultural degree in some way. In the same way that people who go to Harvard have to stay up, you know, pop a Xan, do some test—you know that when you see that show, that I lost sleep. You know that that wasn’t the normal way that people context celebrity clothing, you know that there was something extremely authentic about the process, you know it was something very focused about the way that all of these items are supposed to be an addition to your wardrobe as opposed to an opposition in your closet. It’s supposed to become friends with what you already have in your closet.
Do you feel that it’s important to do the runway each time, every season? Just with the way that you’re talking about democracy and getting it into people’s hands, would you consider releasing it other times of year?
We’ll have more injections. I eventually want it to be brick-and-mortar. One of my dreams was to be the head creative director of the Gap. I’d like to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap.
Well, from what I’ve heard, they could use you.
Perhaps this is a bit of a demo tape. When I say Steve Jobs of the Gap, as I talk to the people at the Gap right now [leans into tape recorder], I’m not talking about a capsule. I’m talking about full Hedi Slimane creative control of the Gap is what I would like to do. And I can say this because it doesn’t conflict with my Adidas contract. [laughs]
And what’s up with Nike these days?
I’m sure they’re doing OK. [laughs]
I’ve got to ask you just one more question. Did you see the controversy over the last A.P.C. collection from Jean Touitou, where he referenced “In Paris” and he used the N-word in his presentation?
Racism is a distraction to humanity. Jean Touitou is one of the most humane people I know. Jean Touitou had my family have dinner with him every time we came to Paris. And there are a lot of people who own fashion companies who didn’t.