From knob-twiddling wiz kid for Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella in the early 00s to genre-straddling rap behemoth today, if there's one thing that's kept us hooked on Mr Kanye West over the past 15 years (other than the tunes and the always-entertaining public pronouncements) it's his ever-changing style. With Ye turning the big 4-0 this week, here’s our take on his sartorial CV to date.
STYLE EVOLUTION: KANYE WEST
By Ross Wilson, 3 June 2017
As a fresh-faced producer straight outta Chicago, West sported the standard hip-hop uniform of oversized baggy tops and jeans, throwback jerseys and adidas Superstars.
With the release of his debut album College Dropout, Kanye stepped out from behind the desk to the mic and stepped up his sartorial game, embracing the all-American preppy vibe. Ralph Lauren polo shirts, rugby tops and pink sweaters were topped off with a Louis Vuitton backpack and a new Roc-A-Fella chain.
Between his Late Registration and Graduation albums, Yeezy’s look was very much streetwear mixed with high-end designers. Kanye would often be spotted rocking BAPE, Supreme, LRG, Billionaire Boys Club and Crooks & Castles alongside Fendi, Dior, Gucci and Lanvin. This period was a turning point in his status as a style icon, especially among the sneaker community, with shoes worn by West often selling out and fetching inflated re-sell prices.
Flush with his success at convincing the world that plastic shutter shades were a good look, Yeezy marked his post-Graduation phase by dabbling in his own creations. Pastelle was Kanye’s streetwear brand that never happened: more impressive were his footwear designs. His collection of luxury sneakers for Louis Vuitton sold out instantly as did all three colours of the original Nike Air Yeezy. Following the passing of his mother, West toned down his mood, music and style, with tweed suits and bow-ties a fitting accompaniment to the reflective 808s & Heartbreaks album.
After his Taylor Swift-related MTV Awards meltdown in 2009, Ye made an effort to both fix up and look sharp and started 'The Rosewood Movement', wherein his whole crew wore nothing but slick, slim-fit Dior suits.
2012 seemed to be West’s all-black-everything year, with the Givenchy Watch The Throne tour outfits, En Noir leather trews, Balmain hoodies, Nike Flyknits and longline side-zip tees all helping to kick-start the 'street goth' look that's still prevalent today. 2012 was also the year the hotly anticipated Nike Air Yeezy 2 hit retailers (for approximately 10 minutes) before selling out worldwide, cementing Kanye’s influence in the sneaker game.
For the Yeezus period, all-black was out and muted soft tones were in – his faves included ripped jeans, flannel shirts, Visvim FBTs, pullover hoods, longline tees, bomber jackets, wheat Timbs, long-sleeved henleys and Schott Perfecto jackets. On tour, however, things weren’t quite so straightforward, with his stage outfits and bejewelled masks custom designed by Martin Margiela himself.
Other style highlights included the confrontational, hard rock-inspired Yeezus tour merchandise, which featured motifs including skeletons, Native Americans and, most controversially, the Confederate Flag. Kanye's response to critics was typically uncompromising: 'I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag now. Now what are you going to do?'
With the exception of the most hyped sneaker ever (and his final release for Nike), the Air Yeezy 2 Red October, and the most opulent wedding of the year, 2014 was a fairly quiet 12 months for Yeezy. The looks that won him ASOS’ Best-Dressed Man of 2014 accolade included APC sweaters, adidas Stan Smiths, khaki hooded jackets, long wool overcoats and his favourite Bottega Veneta Chelsea boots.
If Kanye had been getting increasingly hot and heavy with the fashion world over the previous few years, 2015 was when fashion made an honest man of him. It all began with a dramatic switching of allegiances from Nike to adidas and the unveiling of a brand new sneaker collab: the Yeezy 750 Boost.
The initial run of the distinctive kick – with its retro-futuristic moonboot vibe – sold out in minutes, and Ye did his best to stoke the hype, rocking his Yeezys with a variety of challenging fits – including the excellent burgundy velour tracksuit he wore to the Grammy Awards ceremony in February.
February also saw the unveiling of West’s first full catwalk collection – Yeezy Season 1. When he wasn’t in the design studio, putting the finishing touches to the utilitarian, androgynous line, he was out and about, repping its military-drab colour palette in his own day-to-day wear.
It was a similar story with his SS16 collection – aka Yeezy Season 2 – as the rapper-turned-designer gave everyone a sneak preview of the line’s sandy colour scheme via his MTV VMA Awards outfit in September. The all-camel getup was also notable for revealing a new colourway for his second big trainer drop of 2015 – the low-top Yeezy 350 Boost.
The Oxford tan iteration became the most expensive of the 350s on the reselling market, beating out the OG turtledove, moonrock and the pirate black colourways (the latter notable for its total ubiquity among well-dressed celebs in 2015). In all, Kanye was responsible for six of eBay’s priciest sneaks last year – with the 750 Boost in grey (seen above paired with retro sportswear and all the distressing at the Yeezy Season 2 presentation) and triple black deemed most valuable.
The arrival of winter gave Ye the chance to show off his third big shoe release of the year: the Yeezy 950 Boot. The super-functional duckboot-style kicks were barely off his feet during what passes for the colder months in Los Angeles, often paired with a strong skinny-jean-and-bomber combo (including this Yeezy Season 1 jacket).
Early 2016 Kanye spent most of his time writing and crossing out prospective album titles in his big notepad. When not doing that (or going off on increasingly freeform Twitter rants) he was delivering his seventh studio record and third catwalk presentation. As usual, Yeezy’s personal style offered an indication of his ready-to-wear dabblings, which, this time round, featured a more colourful take on his beloved army-surplus chic and distressed staples.
One big development in Kanye's 2016 style has been his embracing of embellishment, with illustrated items from cult customiser Hi Mum I'm Dead and his own, not entirely dissimilar, The Life of Pablo merch making regular appearances. This oversized lightwash denim jacket – with 'Pablo, Pablo, Pablo' printed on the back – was a standout from his album tie-in apparel (a range that provoked a typical online frenzy, as well a few near-riots at various super-secret pop-up-shop openings).
Not that Ye was only interested in repping his own fashion industry exploits in 2016 – he was still capable of throwing out the occasional personal clothing curveball. This print-clashing confection from just before Mr West's 39th birthday may have been off-brand, but featured a couple of really memorable vintage pieces – a 90s Rolling Stones tour tee and a bang on-trend black velvet sukajan bomber – alongside some longtime Kanye faves (Saint Laurent suede boots and black skinny jeans).
And so to 2017, when Kanye's fashion flavour has had acquired more than a hint of LaBeouf. Retreating from public view following the TLOP promotional cycle, the MC has adopted a similar low-key steez: specifically the sort of normcore leisurewear favoured by fellow polymath and iconclast Shia LaBeouf. So that’s tracksuit bottoms (usually from his latest adidas Calabasas line) tucked into socks, standard-issue sweatshirts, boxy denim jackets and a never-ending supply of dad caps.