Last week, Kanye West gave a rare interview with Vanity Fair, in which the rapper-turned-designer pledged allegiance to the most humble — and most American — of garments.
Simple as it is, he said he was “just so happy” to feature so many sweatshirts in his Yeezy Season 2 collection shown at September’s New York Fashion Week, which drew tons of attention and relatively low levels of ire from the fashion elite compared with Season 1, which premiered in February 2015.
“I think sweatshirts are the way of the future,” West said, noting that they “fall a certain way” thanks to a Japanese stretch French terry that’s washed down to yield a thin piece that keeps retains its original feel — which sounds credible given how his Yeezy Boost sneakers sell out immediately, and the fashion heavy-hitters, hip hop moguls, and teen idols show his ability to “win fashion week.”
Sweatshirts are fucking important
,” he continued. “That might sound like the funniest quote ever. How can you say all this stuff about running for president in 2020 and then say sweatshirts are important? But they are. Just mark my words.”
For West — who spoke in his interview of a romance that he has with the Gap, the boring-is-good American retailer that he rapped about working at in his early records — the sweatshirt is emblematic of our current arc of history.
Sportswear is less than 100 years old, so we are in the middle of the expression right now for what this will say for human existence. There’s something that the Romans, they presented, that the Egyptians, they presented. With us, we have a time now that’s a mix between music, the advent of rock ‘n’ roll to hip-hop, the 808 drum machine, the concept of tennis shoes or the sweatshirt. Where can that go?
Funnily enough, Mr. West, who was a self-mythologizing maximalist in his early days as a musician, has turned into a pragmatic minimalistic as a designer.
Rather than create garments that are showy, he wants to create pieces that blend into the wearer.
“[That’s] one of the points I want to make in apparel, period,” he said. “I want the clothes to almost go away, to almost be invisible, to be one with the personality. You know when you see people’s dogs look like them? I want people’s clothes to look like them.”
He said that what people actually wear are “sweatshirts and yoga pants,” so he wants to make the best version of that, rather than, we can assume, pieces that nobody would every actually wear (though since the sweatshirts from Season 1 cost $US450, it’s not like they’re accessible for most people).
Unlike the fashion establishment that’s mocked him, Kanye is actually reflecting trends in how young people clothe themselves.
As Business Insider has reported, the “athleisure” trend of sweatshirts and yoga pants is reforming the entire apparel industry. BI noted in March that activewear now comprises 28% of teens’ apparel purchases, up from 6% in 2008.
Meanwhile, athleisure pioneer Lululemon has grown into a $US7 billion company in just 17 years, and the Gap, Under Armour, and shoe brand New Balance are all trying to hop on the trend.
But Levi’s, one of the world’s most iconic denim brands, has seen its revenues dip dramatically as a result of missing out on the athleisure market. “We’re scrambling,” Levi CEO Chip Bergh told analysts last year. “I mean, there is a big difference between the product that we’ve got on the floor today and what the consumer is looking for. And we just flat-out missed it.”
Kanye, whose ear (and now eye) for pop culture are without parallel, didn’t. Like he turned hip hop onto polos and backpacks a decade ago, he’s taking his first steps to turning high fashion on to athletic wear.
“I think people just wear yoga pants and sweatshirts,” West said, “and I wanted to make the most beautiful version of that possible.”
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