After years of courting drama and controversy in the fashion world—the defeaning Yeezy Season 3 show at Madison Square Garden; the fainting models at Roosevelt Island for Yeezy Season 4—Kanye West has finally discovered the gift of subtlety.
The rapper and fashion designer has launched a line of understated gold jewelry in collaboration with Jacob “the Jeweler” Arabo inspired by 14th century Florentine art. The 12-piece collection features 18-karat pendant necklaces set with images of Madonna, bas-relief style, and other religious figures depicted in early Renaissance art by masters like Donatello. There are also rings, some bearing bold letter inscriptions like “dream” and “god” and others engraved with ancient symbols, and simple wrap bangles.
Prices range from $1,530 to $13,360, which seems appropriate for Yeezy’s first fine jewelry collection, given that a parka from his latest womenswear collection costs upward of $1000. His cult Adidas Yeezy sneakers were priced in the $500 range (one pair is going for $1269 in the resale market).
West described the collection to Vogue—succinctly then somewhat unintelligibly—as “timeless” and “a letter to my wife from a past life that can live past our lives.”
Kim Kardashian West has in fact been modeling the collection for months now: She wore an oversized pendant and two cleavage-grazing medallions at the MTV VMAs last August, and layered several pendants over a boudoir-esque Givenchy dress at Paris Fashion Week last October. She and West were also photographed in January wearing single medallions and coordinated casual outfits.
West debuted the jewels in his Yeezy Season 4 show last September, though critics were apparently too hot-and-bothered by the designer’s Roosevelt Island charade to notice the gold accents hanging around models’ necks.
Indeed, there’s nothing groundbreaking about the jewelry collection’s aesthetic—but that’s part of its appeal. If a nondescript pendant necklace with the image of Madonna and child is eminently wearable, a Yeezy-designed pendant necklace with the image of Madonna and child is poised to be a covetable status symbol, much like his Yeezy sneakers.
The inspiration is in keeping with West’s image of himself as a master renaissance artist—a Donatello of our times. He also joins a long list of fashion designers who have recently looked to Renaissance art and architecture. For Moschino’s fall 2016 collection, Jeremy Scott “was riffing on the 15th century Dominican monks who took on the Renaissance, leading a mob through the city of Florence,” according to Vogue. Joseph Altuzarra’s fall 2017 collection took inspiration from Northern Renaissance portraits he’d seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But the jewelry collection’s classic aesthetic marks a departure for West.
For years, his womenswear collections invariably featured an onslaught of beige separates best described as “blah.” His nude body-sleeves looked like they’d been plucked from the racks of American Apparel. The rest of his sportswear was understated insofar as it was boring and unfocused, and the bells and whistles surrounding his fashion presentations became increasingly annoying distractions.
West officially alienated Planet Fashion with his Yeezy Season 4 show on Roosevelt Island, keeping the location secret until the last minute and then sending everyone on a torturous scavenger hunt to see what was ultimately a lackluster collection.
It was unclear what Kanye West was trying to accomplish as a fashion designer beyond being provocative for provocation’s sake.
The fashion world had low expectations for Yeezy Season 5. In the months leading up to the show, West was recovering from a nervous breakdown on the heels of Kim’s robbery in Paris and was largely absent from the public eye. But the show marked a surprising comeback for West, who played up logos in a streetwear-heavy collection that some critics compared to popular competitors like Vetements.
Fewer bells and whistles in the presentation meant more attention paid to the clothes. Critics predicted the collection would be a retail success with attendant cult status, in the vein of his Adidas Yeezy collaboration.
So where does a jewelry collection inspired by 14th century Florentine art fit into this mix? For one, its classic aesthetic will likely appeal as much to fashion editors as to diehard Yeezy fans. The relatively quiet launch of a wearable, sellable jewelry line also suggests West wants to compete in the big leagues with other renowned fashion designers who have made forays into jewelry, like Vivienne Westwood.
West has always wanted to be taken seriously, but he’s going about it in a more traditional way now. Unpredictable as ever, the notoriously showy designer has mastered the art of stealth.