As the world streams his newest album “Vultures”, Ye, also known as Kanye West, has not only revolutionised the fashion industry on a business level but has also left a bold mark on the way people dress. Throughout his career, he has consistently redefined each era’s dominating silhouette and colour palette. Whether it was popularising elongated tops, skinny denim, and suede Chelsea boots in the 2010s or introducing earth-toned tops with boxy, cropped fits through his Yeezy Season 1 line in 2015, Kanye has continuously pushed boundaries. For close to two decades, he has been at the forefront of changing how we approach fashion and how we get dressed, leaving a lasting impact that transcends trends and influences generations.
As Kanye gained popularity, his style began to change and follow suit in this exponential rise to fame. Early on in his career, he began to gain a strong liking (like many other rappers at the time) for skating-inspired brand Supreme and streetwear. There are photos of Ye wearing Supreme: a Surf Style-inspired hoodie and a Martin Luther King Jr. T-shirt the brand produced in 2003. For a newly emergent streetwear brand like LRG, identifying Kanye’s burgeoning influence on fashion helped it grow rapidly in the early 2000s.
The current VP of marketing at LRG who in 2003 helped to shoot Ye for LRG’s print campaign ads claims they were the first to capitalise on Ye’s album success.
“I feel like our own ascension as a brand was very parallel because right when The College Dropout dropped, boom, LRG in 2004 and 2005 really exploded. We doubled, tripled, and just went crazy.”
- Kevin Delaney, LRG
One of LRG’s most memorable products was the “Dead Serious” hoodie, a full-zip sweatshirt that resembled a skeleton that Ye wore to the Stella McCartney show at Paris Fashion Week in 2006. It was so popular that when LRG re-released it 15 years later in 2021, Delaney said they sold 10,000 units in six minutes just because of hardcore Kanye West and music fans remembering those hoodies from more than a decade prior.
Greg Selkoe who previously founded the streetwear company Karmaloop and is known for once being the president of FaZe Clan has shared his admiration for Ye, as he feels the artist is sometimes unfairly disrespected for not having conventional media-friendly views and takes.
“It was an exciting time for streetwear with musicians like Pharrell and Kanye elevating style to be as important as the music they created. You had people like Cudi and Lupe Fiasco wearing skinny jeans, doing what they liked, and not what society prescribed to them as the right ‘hip-hop’ look. It was a global phenomenon and people like Kanye exemplified verge culture at the time.”
- Greg Selkoe
Selkoe made an interesting point in an interview stating that it was possibly Kanye West who was the mainstay figure for mixing luxury brands with streetwear brands which ultimately has led to the historic confluent relationship the two styles have today.
“They(luxury brands) copied his general looks and started making more products that were accessible, style-wise, to a larger audience.”
- Greg Selkoe
Alongside the releases of2008’s 808s and Heartbreak and 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye opted for him and his crew to adopt a more sophisticated and high-fashion approach to their aesthetics. Kanye called for a return to etiquette and class by dressing his crew in sharply tailored Dior Homme suits as part of his “Rosewood Movement.”
On March 6, 2011, Kanye West made a bold statement at Paris Fashion Week by donning a now-iconic fit: a black Givenchy T-shirt featuring the rather fierce image of a rottweiler mixed with his face emblazoned across the chest, paired with sleek black leather pants. This was a significant departure from his previous style which was usually characterised by tailored Dior suits and extravagant accessories during his Rosewood era. Instead, Ye embraced an edgy aesthetic centred around the monochromatic attention of all-black everything. Integral to this transformation was the creative direction of Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, whose vision resonated deeply with Kanye's evolving fashion sensibilities. This synergy between artist and designer was further underscored in August of the same year with the release of "Watch the Throne," a collaborative album with Jay-Z, featuring cover art designed by Tisci himself. The album's gold cover echoed Tisci's graphic output at Givenchy, stamping the fusion of music, fashion, and art in Ye’s narrative. Designers like Heron Preston and The Hundreds made their own graphic T-shirts nodding to the rottweiler design.
While this particular era of fashion may not have aged as gracefully as others, there’s no denying its influence at the time.
“Talking about Kanye's influence on fashion is like talking about God's influence on creation.”
- Jesse Einhorn, StockX
Going into the mid-2010’s probably marks Kanye West’s most influential time as an icon. The Wes Lang-designed Yeezus tour merch that debuted in 2013 shifted the way artists treat merch and the way fans wear it and birthed one of the most successful brand-artist collaborations of all time with Ye x Adidas.
In 2015, following his signing with Adidas two years prior, Kanye West unveiled Yeezy Season 1 at New York Fashion Week, marking a significant evolution in his personal style. Departing from his previous liking for flamboyant pieces, Yeezy introduced a revolutionary aesthetic which featured monotone, flowing, earth-toned sportswear. The collection featured an array of garments ranging from roomy T-shirts and bombers to women’s bodysuits, along with the inaugural footwear designed by Kanye for Adidas. Upon its release, Yeezy Season 1 garnered widespread acclaim and found its place in prominent retail outlets and was one of the highest-selling collections in resell history. From esteemed department stores like Barneys to boutiques such as A-Ma Maniére and Social Status they all were in on Yeezy, solidifying Kanye's influence not only in fashion but also in shaping contemporary streetwear culture.
Some would say that Kanye’s post-Kardashian era is his least favourable and relatable era of yet, but it seems that Ye has proven people wrong.
“He's nearly 50 and still influencing kids half his age. Literally, I was walking in New York City a few months ago and saw dudes wearing Balenciaga Crocs and were covered from head to toe,”
Ye’s collaborative album with Ty Dolla $ign is currently number 1 in 47 different countries at the time of writing proving that his influence on the world is still bigger than ever.
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