It's been nearly 10 years since Kanye West first appeared on the national music scene, and in that time, he's become just as well known for his distinctive style as he is for his award-winning albums. In the fall of 2011, Kanye made the official leap from rapper, singer and producer to fashion designer, debuting his Dw by Kanye West collection during Paris Fashion Week.
Reviews of his fall 2011 and subsequent spring 2012 shows have been mixed. While a few fashion critics have raved about his creativity and Rolling Stone magazine applauded his improvement from the first show to the second, most fashion critics have been underwhelmed, and some have panned his collections as "safe" or unoriginal -- two words that we wouldn't normally associate with the flamboyant star.
Whether his foray into the fashion business ultimately takes off or falls flat, Kanye's personal style always makes a statement. Here are 10 fashion lessons we can learn from Kanye West.
Do Be the First to Wear It
Kanye first rocked a pair of white shutter shades in his 2007 "Stronger" video, and the image of his face in the distinctive shades has become iconic. Everyone from Paris Hilton to Shiloh Jolie-Pitt embraced the trend, and the glasses have appeared on everything from T-shirts to Web site themes. But no matter where they turn up, these glass-less glasses are so inextricably linked with West that they're destined to be forever known as "Kanye glasses" or "Kanye shutter shades."
While Kanye wasn't technically the first to wear shutter shades -- they make an appearance in music videos by '80s bands Simple Minds and Animotion -- he found a way to make them his own, and he certainly deserves the credit (or the blame, depending how you look at it) for bringing them into the 21st century.
Of course, having a trend or two under your belt isn't always enough to guarantee success as a designer, as we learn in our next fashion lesson.
Don't Assume You Can Go from Rapper to Fashion Designer Overnight
Long before there was Dw by Kanye West, there was Pastelle by Kanye West...or, at least, there almost was. Kanye's much-anticipated Pastelle line was set to debut in 2009, but its launch was repeatedly delayed and ultimately canceled before it ever hit stores or even runways. Kanye himself offered a sneak preview of the line by wearing his collegiate-inspired Pastelle jackets to award shows and other public appearances, but just one day after the Pastelle "look book" was leaked on the Web, representatives for West announced that the line would never be released.
In the two years between the demise of Pastelle and the debut of Dw, Kanye interned at Fendi and sought the help of British fashion designers Katie Eary and Louise Goldin, as well as shoe designer Giuseppe Zanotti, yet his fall 2011 show was roundly criticized for everything from poor tailoring to uninspired designs.
Kanye seemed to anticipate the negative response from critics after his fall 2011 show, asking the fashion world to give him a chance to grow. At Paris Fashion Week in the spring of 2012, he still appeared apprehensive about the fashion world's reaction to his new line: According to the New York Daily News, he banned critics from previewing the collection in his showroom before it hit the runway. Despite his strained relationship with the fashion press, critics generally spoke more favorably of his second show than his first, so maybe Kanye's third time out will prove to be the charm.
While some reviewers found the Dw collections lacking in originality, many critics agreed that both shows went way overboard on another element. What was it? Read on to find out!
Don't Overdo It on the Fur
Changing consumer preferences and the success of anti-fur campaigns from groups like PETA have motivated many fashion houses to shy away from using real fur or animal skins in recent years, but Kanye is one of a handful of designers whose 2012 collections disregarded the objections of animal rights advocates.
According to the New York Daily News, anti-fur activists lamented Kanye West's heavy use of furs, hides and animal skins at both his 2012 fall and spring shows. But while Kanye certainly isn't the only designer or celebrity to run afoul of animal rights groups, some members of the fashion community were equally critical of his choices, including his decision to show fur in a summer collection. As Long Nguyen, the style director of Flaunt magazine, expressed to Eric Wilson of the New York Times in October 2011, "...you can't just dump some fox fur on a runway and call it luxury."
Kanye himself has been photographed on more than one occasion sporting a knee-length fur coat, but followers of his personal style tend to give him higher marks for simpler looks like the next one on our list.
Do Embrace the Perfect T
Even as he introduced his flashy line at the October 2011 fashion shows, Kanye kept his own look basic, wearing a white T-shirt and black jeans with a pair of simple black Nike Air Yeezy shoes. (Yeezy is Kanye's nickname; the sneaker line is a collaboration between West and Nike.)
Kanye is famous for pairing T-shirts with everything from suits to skinny jeans, and it's a look that he always manages to own. What's his secret? For one thing, his T-shirts always look brand new and wrinkle-free, even when he's performing on stage or photographed in action, such as during a pickup game of basketball. Whether he chooses a plain T-shirt or a bold graphic design, the whites are bright white, and any colors are crisp or intentionally faded. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Kanye also has the physique to pull it off, since even the perfect T can easily go from stylish to sloppy without the right torso to fill it out.
Do Mix it Up
We've already acknowledged Kanye's ability to rock a Tt-shirt with a suit, but that's just one of many combinations he pulls together with style. Most of us wouldn't attempt to wear a denim shirt or jacket with denim jeans unless we were heading to an '80s party, but Kanye manages to keep the styles and colors on the top and bottom different enough to avoid the appearance of a denim jumpsuit.
Like his T-shirts, Kanye's sneakers are a staple of his wardrobe, and he frequently pairs this casual footwear with dress pants and suits, as well as jeans. Kanye's shoes always look just-out-of-the-box new, and we can only imagine how many pairs he has in his closet.
Kanye's Pastelle clothing line never made it to stores, but the letterman-style jackets he wore from the collection showed his fondness for mixing retro preppy styles with more urban looks. And while most men wouldn't dream of grouping a retro jean jacket with a snug-fitting, mint-green knit sweater, oversized gold necklaces and light blue skinny jeans, somehow the combination not only works, but looks kind of fabulous on Kanye.
At a dinner hosted by designer Mark Fast in February 2012, Kanye proved his talent for mixing high fashion with street wear, looking incredibly stylish in a perfectly tailored tuxedo jacket and black button-down shirt worn with tight black leather pants and black high-top sneakers. While this striking all-black look was in keeping with the dress code for the Mark Fast dinner, Kanye is by no means afraid to add a pop (and then some) of color. Read on!
Don't Be Afraid of Bright Colors
His spring and fall fashion collections featured lots of looks in tans, browns, white and black, but in his personal wardrobe, Kanye flaunts his flair for color. The suit he wore to perform at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards was a red so bright it was dubbed "Infrared," though it appeared neon pink when the stage was darkened. Combined with a black t-shirt, gold chains and a pair of bright red Louis Vuitton sneakers, it was an outfit you couldn't miss even if you wanted to.
Kanye has been known to add his own touch to a camel colored Prada suit by adding a bright orange t-shirt and a dazzlingly white pair of sneakers. So how does he pull off all these eye-catching colors without turning into a fashion "don't"? It's similar to the principle interior designers use when choosing the colors for a room: just about any shade becomes a neutral backdrop if you use enough of it. Whenever Kanye goes bright, he tends to go with one color from head to toe. Alternately, he wears a neutral shade, then accessorizes with a bold color - sort of like adding a bright throw pillow to a neutral couch.
Of course, no outfit of Kanye's would be complete without attention to the next lesson on our list.
Do Rock an Amazing Pair of Sunglasses
Kanye may have introduced the shutter shade to the rest of the world (or reintroduced, if you're old enough to remember the '80s), but that doesn't mean he's limited himself to just one eyewear style. In recent years, he's more likely to be spotted in oversized, plastic-framed aviator sunglasses, classic Wayfarers or basic black glasses with a rounded frame.
Sunglasses are a must for celebrities who would prefer not to make eye contact with the fans and photographers who stalk them at every turn, but as Kanye shows us, the right pair can also add panache to any outfit...even for those of us who are still waiting for our 15 minutes of fame. To wear them as well as he does, pick a frame that fits your face and makes a statement. An unexpected shape, size or color can mean the difference between a basic pair of shades and one that reflects your signature style.
And speaking of signature style...the next fashion lesson on our list is one that Kanye has taught us well.
Do Be Yourself
Love him or hate him, Kanye West always stands out, both in terms of his personality and his personal style. As the Web site Fashion Bomb Daily put it in 2010, "he's about the only guy who can pull off an all camel Prada suit, a Liberace-like red tux with dangling gold chains, or a Rambo headband and fur vest." (Frankly, the jury's still out for us on that headband and vest combo.) Whether he's wearing a cheetah-print jacket with jeans or a casual outfit that includes both a bowtie and a pair of work boots, Kanye's style is all his own.
The creativity Kanye displays in his personal dress probably accounts for some of the disappointment among fashion critics who felt the Dw line was too heavily influenced by the previous works of other designers. But if his growth from 2011 to 2012 is any indication, Kanye is already taking the next lesson to heart.
Do Listen to Constructive Criticism
It's one thing to make a fashion statement and be true to your own voice...it's another to produce a collection that's so impractical, ill-fitting, or poorly conceived that no one will ever wear it. While his fall 2011 show was almost uniformly panned, reviewers who covered his spring 2012 show generally agreed that it showed at least some improvement over the first, suggesting Kanye's willingness to take the critics' initial concerns into account.
Kanye famously ranted about unfair treatment by the fashion press after his fall show and complained that instead of being taken seriously, he was doomed to be lumped in with other celebrity designers. His last-minute decision to ban fashion critics from previewing his collection in spring 2012 raised some eyebrows, but if the second show's kinder reviews are any indication, it seems that Kanye may have heeded the words of style director Long Nguyen, who wrote on Fashionista.com that "perhaps...the desire to listen and learn from experience will eventually transform his fashion work into a plausible and sustainable collection."
Whether or not Kanye incorporates the advice of the fashion world into his Dw line, some of his more interesting personal looks were the inspiration for our final fashion lesson.
Do Have a Close Friend Whose Opinion You Trust
Or, to put it another way, don't underestimate the importance of hanging on to at least one trusted friend who tells you the truth about how you look...no matter how rich and famous you get.
We've already expressed our doubts about the Rambo headband with the fur vest. (Trust us on this: it's not a good look for anyone.) While we're all about self-expression, sometimes there's no substitute for a 360-degree mirror and a quizzical look or a few loud guffaws from a true friend.
Even Kanye gets it wrong sometimes, as when he showed up for the 2006 Grammy Awards wearing a comically oversized white jacket over a red disco style shirt, which he left unbuttoned to the navel. Black leather gloves, a gold medallion and a heavy gold bracelet only added to the costume-like vibe, and even a sharp pair of aviators couldn't rescue the look. Was the getup intended as a joke or some sort of statement? We'll never know. But if you choose to copy this particular Kanye ensemble, you might want to call a friend before you leave the house.
Where do those red carpet dresses go after their big debuts? HowStuffWorks follows the trail.
More Great Links
- Animotion. "Obsession." 1985. (March 31, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIs5StN8J-0
- The Fashion Bomb Blog. "First Look: Kanye West Fall 2012." March 6, 2012. (March 26, 2012) http://fashionbombdaily.com/2012/03/06/first-look-kanye-west-fall-2012/
- Fashion Bomb Daily. "Best of 2010: Most Fashionable Man." Dec. 21, 2010. (April 2, 2012) http://fashionbombdaily.com/2010/12/21/best-of-2010-most-fashionable-man/
- Goldwert, Lindsay. "Kanye West bans fashion critics from previewing his Paris Fashion Week collection."
- Huffington Post. "Kanye West Fashion Show Debuts During Paris Fashion Week." Oct. 10, 2011. (March 26, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/01/kanye-west-presents-his-f_n_990535.html
- Krishnamurthy, Sowmya. "Big Sean Interview." AskMen. (March 26, 2012) http://www.askmen.com/fashion/interview_500/561_big-sean-interview.html
- Macia, Peter. "Fader 58: Kanye West Cover Story and Interview." Fader.com. Nov. 25, 2008. (March 31, 2012) http://www.thefader.com/2008/11/25/fader-58-kanye-west-cover-story-and-interview/
- Nika, Colleen. "Kanye West's Second Fashion Show: Upgrade!" RollingStone.com. March 7, 2012. (March 31, 2012) http://www.rollingstone.com/music/blogs/thread-count/kanye-wests-second-fashion-show-upgrade-20120307
- Nguyen, Long. "Kanye West Spring 2012. Our Review of Kanye's Debut Collection." Fashionista.com. Oct. 2, 2011. (March 31, 2012) http://fashionista.com/2011/10/kanye-west-spring-2012-our-review-of-kanyes-debut-collection/
- Odell, Amy. Kanye West's Pastelle Line Shall Never Grace the Bodies of the General Public." NYTimes.com. Oct. 13, 2009. (March 31, 2012) http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2009/10/kanye_wests_pastelle_line_shal.html
- Paine, Kelsey. "Kanye West Debuts Fashion Line Dw in Paris!" GlobalGrind.com. Oct. 1, 2011. (March 31, 2012) http://globalgrind.com/node/817252
- People.com. "Shiloh Jolie-Pitt Channels Kanye West." July 22, 2011. (March 31, 2012) http://celebritybabies.people.com/2011/07/22/shiloh-jolie-pitt-wears-shutter-shades-like-kanye-west/
- Rap-Up. "Kanye West, Rita Ora Step Out in Style at Mark Fast Dinner." February 2012. (March 31, 2012) http://www.rap-up.com/2012/02/07/kanye-west-rita-ora-step-out-in-style-at-mark-fast-dinner/
- Rolling Stone. "Kanye West Bans Critics from His Paris Fashion Show." March 8, 2012. (April 2, 2012) http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/kanye-west-bans-critics-from-his-paris-fashion-show-20120308
- Simple Minds. "Glittering Prize." 1982. (March 31, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLzmouHpp2k
- West, Kanye. "Stronger." Roc-A-Fella Records. 2007. (March 31, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsO6ZnUZI0g
- Wilson, Eric. "Kanye West, Designer (Yawn)." New York Times. Oct. 5, 2011. (March 26, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/fashion/kanye-west-designer-yawn.html
- Wonderwall. "2011 Grammy Fashion Lessons." (March 26, 2012) http://wonderwall.msn.com/music/2011-grammy-fashion-lessons-11312.gallery#!wallState=0__%2Fmusic%2F2011-grammy-fashion-lessons-11312.gallery%3FphotoId%3D46086
- Wonderwall. "Kanye West." (March 26, 2012) http://wonderwall.msn.com/music/kanye-west-325.celebrity