Kanye West is a lot of things: self-centered pop icon, hip-hop groundbreaker, Taylor Swift hater, boo of Kim K. And who can leave “fashion visionary” off that list?
After his infamous MTV Music Awards debacle involving Swift, Kanye wisely retreated from the scene, at least for a while, and moved to Rome to accept an internship with the fashion giant Fendi. It was a move that wasn’t completely unexpected. Kanye had already made a well-documented foray into fashion with sneaker design, launching the highly coveted Air Yeezy 1 and 2 for Nike, and later, inking a two-year deal with Louis Vuitton footwear.
But his biggest fashion coup came in the fall of 2011, when he enlisted internationally renowned Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci to design the album art for “Watch the Throne”, his much-hyped album collaboration with Jay-Z.
During the “Watch the Throne” Tour (I attended two different dates) Kanye and Jay-Z, both sported Givenchy tees designed by Tisci, who had also designed the concert sets and marketing collateral. These tees, featuring stars, bold type and Kanye’s distorted visage, couldn’t be farther from the streamlined $2,500 handbags for which Tisci has become known. Still, they inspired a whole line of wear for Givenchy steeped in the hip-hop vein:
Celebs began donning the Kanye-inspired Givenchy line, including this vest worn by New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (it bears a striking resemblance to the concert tees and album art).
Some argued that a French luxury fashion house “going hip-hop” could tarnish the brand’s status, but Tisci knew better. Priced between $400-800 an item, the Givenchy tees, sweatshirts and vests maintained their luxury status at a premium price point, ensuring that they were targeted for (and acquired by) true tastemakers, not 17-year-old Kanye fans. Tisci also stayed true to the design facets – stars, chain links, flowers and animals – that put him on the map in the first place.
Of course, the 17-year-olds covet these items, too — and in a few years, they will be the tastemakers.
Fashion collaborations are nothing new, with fashion houses such as Versace, Martin Margiela and Missoni forging partnerships with such retail chains as H&M and Target. Givenchy’s collaboration with Kanye opened the brand up to an entirely new audience (and profits). And it looks like Tisci may not be stopping there; last week, rumors of a possible H&M and Givenchy collaboration had the Internet blowing up like, well, a hip-hop concert. Who knows, maybe Tisci will bring in his good buddy Kanye as designer.