Kanye West’s latest piece of installation art-meets-commerce—he called it “Yeezy Season 4,” but we’ll go with the more unwieldy “The Afternoon in Which New York’s Most Fashionable Baked Under a Hot Afternoon Sun”—began with a deceptively tranquil walk.
West typically, and grandly, serves up drama at his fashion shows to showcase his collaboration with Adidas.
He also loves treasure hunts.
Last time I made a furtive late-night trip to a midtown hotel to secure a ticket for his “Yeezy Season 3” show at Madison Square Garden. That afternoon of strange towers of beige-attired humans, Kardashians all in white like tanned snow cones, and loud rap music left a few eardrums compromised.
For “Yeezy Season 4,” on the first day of New York Fashion Week, with a few hours to go visitors had been instructed to go to Manhattan’s Roosevelt Island for 3 p.m.
You could take a shuttle laid on by organizers. You could take the F train, which seemed much easier. Or you could be a celebrity and be ferried by limo. But even then there would be a walk to what turned out to be the actual site, which was the lushly green, triangular Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at the island’s southern tip (those four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear). The park has a statesman-like designed grandeur: Look west, and you see the United Nations and Chrysler buildings.
The walk from the subway station to a doomy set of security gates was gorgeous: The East River sparkled, and Manhattan’s buildings puffed out their chests on the opposite shore.
And then the mystified visitor got to a set of security gates and what became an hour-plus delay in the stifling heat, under that sun, with no shade.
“This is not chic,” said one woman.
“This is ridiculous,” opined a male peacock, in a string vest, striped jacket, striped trousers, pink cap, and golden safety-pin earrings.
Two women from a fashion magazine wondered if West would be dropped from the helicopter that buzzed overhead like a fly.
“This is going to start really late,” one sage noted.
West had insisted to Vogue hours before that despite the controversy that had blown up over his casting-call request for “multiracial women only,” he was not courting controversy.
A security officer periodically bellowed at the mushrooming horde of frying fashionistas—and sweat is no respecter of sequined jackets worn in the mid-afternoon, let me tell you—to “step back, step back.”
Limousines came and went. Celebrities whom some people recognized, but most people didn’t, alighted. Nobody moved, everybody broiled. Cigarettes were lit: the stressed fashionista’s equivalent of mainlining potato chips. Umbrellas bought for rain became the most desirable accessory of the afternoon, as people huddled under them for shade.
Phones died. The crush got crushier, and you couldn’t help thinking that if West wanted to court the fashion world and the fashion media, then giving them sunstroke and having them shouted at by security staff wasn’t really the best pre-show aperitif. But still we stayed.
Eventually, an hour or so late, one gate opened. We trickled through, to—and this seemed to sum up the antsy massed mood quite well—alight upon a derelict smallpox hospital. We gazed up at its shattered, craggy window frames and wondered if models in Yeezy’s threads would start appearing at them. But no, onward.
Until another block. Another wait. The park itself. Here, there was no clue as to where the show was, and so people—de-watered, overheated, and wondering if this was all worth coming back from the South of France or the Hamptons for—took shade under trees. Any tree. Find a tree. Stay under that tree. Do not be displaced from your sweet spot of shade. Oh branches, oh leaves on branches, you lovely, underappreciated things.
Suddenly, the crowd puzzled about where to stand or what to look at, moved again, this time up the steps to the park, and there—more confusion. Where were the seats? Where was your seat? Oh, and there were the models, in ranks standing stock-still, looking impassively ahead, in body stockings, bikinis, bra tops, bandeaus, and bottom-half attire that sometimes covered the bum, and sometimes totally did not.
Some of the outfits were opaque, some were see-through, revealing breasts. Some were tan, some were beige, some were camo-green. It looked very familiar to Yeezy regulars. A mournful musical dirge struck up, which sounded—appositely—like the wail of foghorns by the water. A mournful choral voice struck up too.
Kim Kardashian West was there to support her husband, as were Kendall and Kylie Jenner, and Anna Wintour. Some of the models dashed off to get water, and gave their colleagues water. One model collapsed, and was then righted and consoled by a solicitous neighbor.
And so we sat or stood looking at those poor, sweltering models, who carried on just standing there, and then sitting down and stretching. This went on for a number of minutes, until suddenly a different group of models appeared in real, actual clothes that seemed wearable and sellable: white shift dresses, bodycon dresses, knee-length boots, oversized parkas, hooded jackets in acid yellows and grays and blacks. Do you fancy a pair of heels that come with a plastic casing up to your knees? West has just the footwear for you, although one model could not walk in her (broken?) heels and looked to be hobbling in pain, until a gentleman in the audience kindly stood up and supported her.
The applause at the end of this epic was a polite ripple, as if at an English Sunday cricket match, not a stadium roar. Later, people tweeted that the clothes were impressive, the best Yeezy yet.
But the weirdness and disorganization of the event lingered longer than the clothes and beautiful setting. Behind that is what? West’s vanity or ego? Maybe it was a nightmare to organize, and we were all party to it.
The heat was relentless. “I think Gene is dead, he was wearing a bomber,” one guy said to a mate as I was leaving. Another woman fretted whether her shoes could aesthetically take her to Wednesday night’s posh Cartier bash. Another woman pondered whether she had heat stroke.
And beyond the gates, now open for our exit as if silently mocking all the hullabaloo preceding our entry, were many limousines—and people sitting under any tree they could find. And the aircon on the F train that ferried me back downtown? Delicious.