Few figures are as divisive in fashion as Kanye West. However, despite the seemingly constant controversy, the 21 times Grammy Award wining hip-hop artist’s status as a global trendsetter and urban style leader is undeniable. The rapper has collaborated with Nike and Louis Vuitton on sneaker lines, with A.P.C on a collection of menswear and launched womenswear ready-to-wear label Yeezy. Alongside his wife, Kim Kardashian West, West also starred in Balmain's Spring/Summer 2015 campaign.
In 2015, West launched the first season of Yeezy, his collaboration with Adidas Originals, with a show at New York Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2015 featuring a remarkably diverse cast of 50 models, many of whom were street cast, advancing in army ranks. Although West's militaristic designs, distressed fabrics and nude colour palette divided critics, the line proved to be commercially successful — in particular, Yeezy's collection of trainers, which sold out online in the US in 12 minutes. New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2016 marked the launch of Yeezy's second season — suggesting the collaboration and West's career as a designer is likely to have more staying power than the rapper's previous design efforts.
West has made fashion showmanship a key component of his tours and a recurring theme in his lyrics. For his sell-out 2014 Yeezus tour, West collaborated with Maison Martin Margiela to create the show wardrobe which included crystal studded face masks, embroidered bombers, blanket coats and ponyskin versions of his sneakers.
West’s influence over millions of consumers is perhaps most apparent through his collaboration with sneaker giant Nike. West’s Air Yeezy I and II designs for Nike set a new standard for resale values and have arguably made the biggest impact on sneaker culture in the last decade. West and Nike’s relationship broke down during negotiations regarding royalties and creative control of the Air Yeezy brand, which led to the rapper signing with Adidas.
In addition, in 2009, West collaborated with Louis Vuitton on a highly successful line of sneakers, although the rapper later told press that he felt that the Parisian house’s prices were too expensive, and that he would not collaborate on a second line.
West’s two season foray into ready-to-wear design is largely remembered for the calibre of its staging at Paris Fashion Week and its top model cast, rather than the short lived line’s clothing, described by Tim Blanks for Style.com as “baby Balmain vision of womenswear.” West told Blanks "The biggest hurdle I had to face is the celebrity designer or the hip-hop designer concept," he has since told press however that he intends to be “a hip-hop designer, and because of that, I am going to be bigger than Wal-Mart.”
Raised in Chicago, West began rapping in the third grade, however the musician has also maintained a keen interest in art and design, leading to him attending art school for a single semester, before dropping out to pursue music entirely in the late 1990s.