“Spending everythang on Alexander Wang, New Slaves,” asserts Kanye West on the 2013 Yeezus cut, as a grisly operatic instrumental ignites to create the soundtrack for a scene where rows of image-obsessed slaves are shown dragging concrete blocks beneath Wang’s smiling, flame-enveloped face.
“I don’t believe that it’s luxury to go into a store and not be able to afford something,” West explained in a New York Times interview the same year. “I believe luxury is to be able to go into a store and be able to afford something.” Fast forward two years to the rapper’s Adidas Originals collaboration, Yeezy Season 1, and it seems West has abandoned this belief altogether. This collection of irrationally expensive thrift store lookalikes has been monopolizing retail after publicly debuting last Thursday, and has since sold out at retail.
West, a man who once laudably spoke against chasing designer labels for the sake of street clout, has become the gleaming face of said Hypebeast culture—a shameless hypocrite who’s proven time-after-time to be battling an internal tug-of-war between genuine artistry and capitalist bullshit.
According to WWD, lines began forming Thursday morning outside Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue flagship store; Yeezy’s New Slaves had to secure a wristband Wednesday night to even shop the collection, and clear out the collection they did—the black 950 boot, which retails for $585, sold out first, while a $1,690 bouclé sweater was reportedly Barneys’ bestseller. The rapper has successfully created a cult only a few years into his career as “fashion designer,” fueling a fresh front of post-Wang New Slaves who salivate—wide-eyed—at the sight of a meaningless “Yeezy Season 1” tag.
Though these “easy-to-wear staples” boast the coveted label, “imported,” and are crafted using “top quality fabrics,” the face value of Yeezy Season 1 is uncomfortably evocative of aisle three in some dusty, disheveled Salvation Army. One sweater—fittingly called, “destroyed sweater”— is available for a whopping $2,600, despite looking more like a $5 pullover heavily mangled by a pair of rusted scissors. Is $2,600 what West was referring to when he said luxury fashion is being “able to affording something?” Perhaps, considering his total net worth is around $100 million, or maybe this is just concrete proof of Yeezy’s bipolar creative disorder.
“Destroyed Sweater” via Barneys New York
In one moment, West attempts to present himself as an authentic artist, and in the next, he’s dismantling this entire display by proudly celebrating commerce. He’s seemingly striving to be like a Dev Hynes (of Blood Orange fame), using music as a genuine vehicle for social change, when a moneymaking move like Yeezy Season 1 knocks holes in this agenda, making West look no different than a Britney Spears, who lends her name to every profitable venture available.
My question for Ye is simple: What do you stand for? Because at this point, the original lyrics in “New Slaves” could easily be amended, replacing “Alexander Wang” with “Yeezy Season 1,” making you the fire-faced enemy who’s counting your millions.