Originally published 2/14/2016 on SHEIMagazine.com.
It’s difficult to describe feeling underwhelmed as you watch 20,000 devotees worship their idol. Your gut says one thing; your pang for belonging, another. There’s a lingering fear of denial, like some wisdom of the crowd has somehow invalidated your feelings. But when the subject is a pop fashion show presented to only the most hardcore fans who were Bound 2 love it anyways, perhaps the wisdom of the crowd is more fever than lucidity. I felt that internal tug watching YEEZY SEASON 3.
The latest collection by Kanye West, titled "YEEZY SEASON 3", was unveiled during a worldwide satellite livestream. The whole affair seemed more media circus than serious event. Celebrities packed the front row. The designer didn’t hide until an end-of-show bow; instead, he strolled in with an entourage and a spotlight. Critics of fashion’s turn towards theatrics, eat your heart out. The show itself wasn’t bad: 1200 earth-toned extras, expertly staged by Vanessa Beecroft, surrounded two gender-specific platforms under a blaring MSG jumbotron. The staging itself was a visual feast.
It’s just a shame about the clothing. First and foremost, I entered this show with blind optimism. I’m a big fan of Kanye’s “public artist” persona, and thought that his past work (while underwhelming as an absolute) showed significant direction and, more significantly, improvement. I reviewed Yeezy Season 2 for SHEI Magazine last fall and found it heavily influenced by the work of contemporaries, but overall unique. Compared to Season 1’s “same silhouette in different colors”, Season 2’s range was trending towards creativity. I eagerly awaited the next season’s unveiling.
Until I saw it. For the purpose of this review, I’ll focus on each collection individually. Unlike past years, Men’s and Women’s are night and day.
First up: Men’s. Yes, there are some standout pieces – but with the exception of a specifically bright shade of red, the clothes showed no designer improvement. Silhouettes stayed the same; olive drab/rust returned; oversized sweatshirts continued as the flavor du jour. The proportional changes I saw at the core of Season 2 seem to be mere fallbacks for Mr. West, who assured a packed stage that “this sh*t is harder than it looks.” It would appear so. There are some real head-scratchers here (pale yellow on FW outerwear; JNCO-levels of voluminous pants), but even more missed potential.
I genuinely believed that adidas’ departure from the Ready to Wear side of YEEZY would mean an improved Yeezy Season. Even big names like Robert Geller, John Elliott, and Virgil Abloh were brought in to advise West’s designs. Which makes it a little frustrating to think that there was likely a point that Geller (whose FW16 collection will likely be remembered as one of this year’s best) suggested something other than oversized sweatshirts, tapered sweatpants cut to stack oddly, and milsurp-inspired outerwear. There was one soutien down coat I genuinely loved. It was sinister in the best way and (here’s the kicker) a novel choice of silhouette and material executed well. Crazy.
As usual, the shoes were great – the RealTree 1050 Boots (below left) especially were both a surprise and a treat. I’d like to see something dramatically new in the sneaker category. A neon stripe across 350 Boosts (above left) is less MMM Paint Splatter color palette than art class accident. Considering any analysis worth its salt takes steps to nullify outliers, I’ll apply the same rigor to this review: after two seasons of plucky optimism, Season 3’s uninspired menswear prevented even 20,000 screaming fans from fooling me thrice.
On to Women’s. First things first, the collection as a whole was stronger than Men’s. Blindingly-obvious Vetements influences abound (oversized bomber; oversized down jacket with same proportions as oversized bomber; color-blocked knitwear, etc), but it’s different enough from both Vetements-proper and from Season 2 for me to say that it’s actually pretty good. Great artists steal, right? Just look at any press photo of the show: the Women’s collection of colorblocked knit tops and cropped sweaters at least stole the spotlight.
The rest, well, not so much. Season 1’s destroyed sweaters return in varying lengths. There are some interesting nylon pants. And yes, bodysuits return if for no discernible purpose than to highlight accessories. I understand the disheveled, luxury-meets-past-prime-sportswear "new order" look Yeezy is going for. I just don’t understand what three straight seasons of destroyed commando sweaters has to do with his boundary-pushing vision. Just like the men’s side, the shoes were great – I think Mr. West would bat 1000 if he designed footwear alone. I particularly liked the slouchy combat boots (below left) and tonal burgundy heels (below right).
That being said, I experienced even stronger disappointment watching West revisit the old in the Women’s arena. Womenswear is unique because there is such a wide space considered acceptable; you can play in expanse, as opposed to the laborious barrier-breaking associated with avant garde menswear. Just because you have a creative vision doesn’t mean you get a pass to reproduce the expressions of that vision ad infinitum.
Just look at Versace: there are garish prints almost by definition, but their FW15 Womanswear was so much more. There was substance; there was variety; there was personality and inspiration. Sure, there was a gold Medusa set against Italian luxury heritage. But there was also a direction for the collection that operated within the brand’s scope as opposed to the Versace brand alone as the selling point. I could not imagine any discerning customer with the means to buy that fur-collar-neckbrace thing taking it home for any reason other than that worldwide audiences will know who's associated with it. That tactic sells monogrammed handbags, not designer Ready-to-Wear. It’s a shame to see the two cross.
If I had to sum up Yeezy Season 3 in a sentence, it would read: “Emperor Yeezus’ New Clothes.” Harsh? Maybe. But after 18 months of unrepentant optimism, I just can’t help but feel let down by Season 3. There were some standout pieces. If I haven’t said it enough, the shoes are consistently great. But, some questionable pieces of fashion design also received worldwide fan worship simply because the tag in the back says “YEEZY.”
Look no further than the pale yellow shearling coat (Men’s) or the fur-collar-neckbrace thing (Women’s) for evidence. As I sat in my theater chair, both apart of the experience and isolated from the cheering MSG crowds, I just couldn’t shake the thought that Kanye could have walked models in anything and the crowd would have loved it. The media coverage would've been more or less the same, too: photos of the collection would #BreakTheInternet; Hypebeast would have some great content for Instagram; retail buyers would reach for the order sheet. I wondered what how critics would see what I thought as slapdash. Yet there I was, experiencing why no one told the Emperor he was naked.