We knew there was something underneath the deliciously soft-looking, silky taupe canvas covering the main arena of Madison Square Garden. It billowed ever bigger, its fluttering edges first toyed with by a group of stagehands and then we saw protrusions, arms pushing, underneath.
And still the big taupe mushroom cloud got bigger, until it sported another mini-mushroom cloud, and more protrusions.
And so those taking their seats were gently tantalized at the outset of New York Fashion Week’s most hyped event: Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 presentation. It’s his third collaboration with Adidas, and (because why would a fashion show be enough?) an event to premiere his new album, The Life of Pablo, which could—until West clarifies it—refer to a range of Pablos: Picasso, Escobar, Neruda, and more. Pick a Pablo, everyone.
A spreading increase of whooping finally alerted the 20,000 assembled at the venue to the arrival of West himself (in red T-shirt, with the legend “I Feel Like Pablo” on it) and a full retinue of Kardashian-Jenners, all dressed in shining white: his wife Kim Kardashian West, Caitlyn Jenner, Kris Jenner, Khloe Kardashian (accompanied by a camouflage-jacketed Lamar Odom, in his first major public appearance since his hospitalization), Kendall Jenner, and Kylie Jenner.
Whatever their scandals and squabbles, the Kardashian-Jenner complex remains—on occasions they deem important—an impressive, inviolable juggernaut.
All the K-J women were wearing white and off-white, with occasional big frowsy, furry-looking jackets, with sparkly bits here and there. Wherever Liberace is, I hope he’s working on commission.
Others in attendance apparently included Jay Z, Frank Ocean, and Jaden Smith. Anna Wintour sat next to Kim K. Melanie Griffith sat next to Kris Jenner.
If it was a blur to the naked eye, Madison Square Garden’s giant central bank of TV screens served as useful visual prompts.
These become more vital when, at West’s behest, the music began and the taupe silk covering was removed to reveal a clustered mini-city of Yeezy models standing around and in and on top of what looked like a little shanty town.
These performers all deserve medals, drinks, full meals, and hugs should you bump into ANY of them.
This is the instruction sheet West had for them: don’t smile, stand straight. “You are a picture.” “Don’t act cool.” My favorite is: “Be aware of others and be percautios.”
Please readers, whatever you do this weekend, be percautios when you do it.
Believe me, they stuck to this by the letter. New York’s chiropractors will be well served with visits from these sterling artists.
It was later revealed that 20 million people watched West’s album and fashion show reveal via Tidal.
In the arena, West instructed us to dance if we wanted to; many stood and swayed, others sat and gawped at the sheer size of it all and at the Kardashian-Jenners. “This is totally surreal,” the lady behind me said to her companion. One man near me shouted very butchly, “We love you, Kanye.”
The new album, whose set list was revealed by West beforehand, was played at ear-bleeding and chest-thudding volume, West having a great time just beneath me, leading proceedings at the music desk. A bank of photographers faced him, and a group of friends and associates danced enthusiastically around him.
This is surely the height of luxury—not private planes, the best seats in restaurants, but having your own dance posse, your friends who literally have your back. They’re right there behind you, like an aircraft display team. Going for a sandwich at lunchtime must be a total blast.
Despite its unbearable volume (a clutch of people around me had had enough before the end), the music was a panoply of surprises—rap mixed with lush pop, walls of sound with orchestral flourishes—even if it also came with the occasional nasty diss, to someone like Taylor Swift for example, whom West claimed to have made famous with that notorious stage invasion.
In the quintessence of when big ego addresses big ego, AIDS drug profiteer Martin Shkreli offered West $10 million to buy his album personally, to remove it from public consumption.
The worrisome vibrations of your chest cavity—under pressure from that relentless bass; oh, the sweet relief between songs—hopefully didn’t detract from a visible and welcome evolution of West’s design eye.
The Season 3 sneakers were white and looked muddied, and worn sexiest at ankle-height. There were other sneakers too, plain red, for example, regular-looking. There were also women’s boots—orange, or shiny patent leather.
Heads came topped with soft-looking beanies, and knee stockings shared the same geometric designs as the bodysuits.
Gone were those hideous, structureless oatmeal sacks the models wore last year.
This year, the massed ranks of unsmiling, unmoving models—who impressively held poses throughout West’s music set—wore a smorgasbord of colors and styles, a compendium of graceful streetwear.
All the models I could see were models of color—black and other ethnicities—and a few held their fists aloft during as the “Black Power” salute. The n-word was used in songs too, with force. With the Oscars being criticized for a lack of diversity, artists like West are part of a voluble, visible, very welcome rebound.
On the models there was a gorgeous, oversized yellow parka, a squeezable mélange of materials and textures. There were purple and pink sweaters and fitted dresses, orange jackets, orange shirts, headscarves, and green anoraks. There were bodysuits, with playful bra designs, or with geometric designs and yellows, blacks, and browns to break up the predominance of the main color.
There were knitted tank tops and shorts, and a leather flying jacket cut short and given an orange fur finish.
There were padded jackets, and jackets cut high, with furry collars, and still—as last time around—dresses and other clothes with holes scored into them and threads hanging loose; family members, including Caitlyn, wore a holey dress. It’s odd, whenever I see a distressed piece of clothing, no matter how artfully it has been tricked around with and flayed, an admittedly granny-ish thought, “Why would you pay good money to wear clothes with holes in it?” rings in my head.
Naomi Campbell suddenly swung into focus, joining other big-name models Liya Kebede, Alek Wek, and Veronica Webb, looking wonderfully fierce in black fur coats. In my little section of the crowd, this luminous trio of women got their own special shouts and whoops.
The clothes were visually richer than the beige onslaught of Season 2, streetwear with an overt sheen of chic sprayed on to it.
West wanted affirmation from the crowd about how we felt about this: the music and the clothes. Naturally, he got an enthusiastic response.
If many of the album’s more plaintive lines seemed to be about West, and his problems with being famous, he also seems to bask in that fame, and expect ever more from it. Critics or dissenters are fiercely unwelcome, as his Twitter spats and revenge lyrics in songs show.
But Kanye West is not all about Kanye West, even if the sweetest mini-ditty parodied precisely his own self-absorption. He also looks out into the world. “Pray for Paris, pray for the parents,” another lyric went.
Yet he speaks about himself in the third person as “Kanye,” and he seems to possess that odd combination of extreme swagger and extremely thin skin—and at Thursday’s event there were moments that one was reminded of that other master of parallel-world spectacle, Donald Trump.
If West’s event was a uniquely conceived fashion show and concert, it could also be conceived as a more personal-is-political showcase, a decibel-shattering rally.
West ended it by announcing a video game based on his mother going to heaven; then slightly backtracking from his stated desire to be president of the U.S., said he wished to be creative director of Hermès.
Both of these political and sartorial ambitions may be within his range: the political and fashion worlds are equally febrile right now, with no one sure who’s going to land on what chair when the music stops.
The emotional, questing heart of West’s grandstanding is also similar to Trump’s. On Thursday he filled Madison Square Garden for a music and fashion blockbuster. That should count as a success. West did seem happy, for sure, to be surrounded by friends and family, to hear and share his new album (which seemed, at least early on, to be critically well-received), and to see his clothes so stunningly arrayed.
But West was also restless.
Of course, he was understandably nervous at the immensity of the undertaking and how it would be received.
Yet there was an additional edge to the demands West addressed to the audience, and it resounded deeper than the bass that thudded around Madison Square Garden. He seemed to be saying: This is not enough. Love me more. Appreciate me more.