Op-ed: Why did fashion take so long to cancel Ye?
Gap cut ties with Ye first, then eventually, Balenciaga, Vogue and Anna Wintour, Twitter and Instagram, Creative Artists Agency aka CAA, and hotshot lawyer Camille Vasquez all followed suit.
Finally, on October 25, Adidas caved to the mounting pressure, including 168,000 signatures on a change.org petition, and dropped Ye, ending its most profitable partnership valued at $2 billion.
Gap went further, announcing Yeezy Gap products would be removed and YeezyGap.com would shut down immediately. Foot Locker and The RealReal followed suit with more businesses joining the split as of this posting. Kim Kardashian, Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, and Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel also used their respective voices to condemn the rapper's anti-semitic statements.
The artist, aka Kanye West, finally went too far, bragging on a Drink Champs podcast,"I can say anti-Semitic things, and Adidas can't drop me," and tweeted, "death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE" (the military attack stage term is known as DEFCON.) His infractions started long before this—the slavery was a "choice" comment comes to mind— but fashion and the media were complicit in his antics.
Two designers, two different responses
However unacceptable, anti-semitism and white supremacy have shockingly been on the rise as hate groups of all kinds get louder and more vicious with the help of social media.
Following his Spring 2023 show in Paris - where Ye and fellow right-wing pundit Candace Owens appeared on stage donning “White Lives Matter” T-shirts - prompting Adidas to release a statement on October 6 saying its partnership was under review.
Fashion is no stranger to cancellation. In 2011 accusations were made against Dior's creative director John Galliano for spouting anti-semitic remarks to patrons in a Paris bar. A video emerged of a similar incident a few months earlier. Within days, Dior CEO Sidney Toledano fired the designer from his post, though not before Jewish American actress Natalie Portman announced her disassociation with the designer.
Galliano faced a French court and was found guilty of "public insults for reasons of religion, race or ethnicity, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a 22,500 euro fine," according to a New York Times article and paid a 6,000 euro fine. He also apologized for the incident, citing he didn’t remember saying it due to drugs and alcohol.
Netizens found it highly perplexing why German-owned Adidas seemed to be carefully weighing its options longer. Stranger still when compared to the swift actions of Dior.
Witnessing Kanye West’s acceptance speech for Stylemaker of the Year award at the 2010 Ace Awards suggested he was angry and resentful fashion hadn't embraced him sooner. Speech snippets included:
“Why, if someone is good in one field, can they not be accepted or given the slightest opportunity to express and be creative in other fields? I thank Marc Jacobs so much for giving me the opportunity to design a shoe for Louis Vuitton, but the thing that broke my heart most was when they said,"You're finished. The shoe's finished."
“Some people hate me. But nonetheless, my biggest Internet-crashing moments were the opinion of a 5-year-old."
“For this to be the fifteen-year anniversary and for me to stand up here and be the first male to be honored for an influencer award or to be even recognized because I sit back and as I say, "Let's have a toast for the douchebag" … Fashion breaks my heart."
“You know, when they do a magazine of No.1 New Yorkers or something like that, and I'm blatantly left out, I feel like … It hurts me"
Karen Giberson, president and CEO of the Accessories Council and editor-in-chief of Ac Magazine spoke to FashionNetwork.com about the event.
“This was pre-Yeezy. It was probably his first formal fashion-world recognition for his personal, music, and video style. It had nothing to do with being a designer. He strung us along for weeks,” she said.
“Until he walked in the back door, we didn't know if he would show. He was a gentleman to guests, posing for iPhone pictures. He was introverted, polite, respectful, and reserved until he got on the stage," she continued.
“His emotional off-the-cuff speech was long and hard to follow, but expressed some gratitude. He felt passed over by the media in general, not just fashion," she recalled.
Further incidents include the infamous 2016 Yeezy 4 fashion show on Roosevelt Island, where models fainted from the stress of standing in 100-degree heat and struggled with hard-to-walk-in shoes. Fashion editors and buyers also stood in the heat for over three hours, missing other engagements due to the lengthy and laborious show process. West seemed to want to play the game but failed to respect the rules or people involved.
Stories floated about after Yeezy or Kanye West-related events about the disorder and throngs of crowds of fans causing unsafe conditions. It was befuddling as the clothes were hardly ground-breaking; had a designer without a skyrocketing music career or internet-breaking wife designed them, fashion would have turned their heads after the first collection.
His Yeezy 8 show in Paris at the Oscar Niemeyer’s French Communist Party building was also a debacle, with show reviewers not being given equal access to do their job. Most of the items shown were what the artist referred to as “prototypes.” By this, he meant the muslin pattern and silhouette forms prior to making an actual sample.
Fast forward to the cancellation last straw of Yeezy 9. Even after endorsing white supremacy, the industry dragged its feet to cancel. Even when he came for Gabriella Karefa-Johnson after she posted her discomfort with the show's message and netizens were in an uproar, there were only grumblings, no action, until he started the anti-semitic rhetoric.
Aliza Licht is the author and podcast host of Leave Your Mark and a former PR and marketing executive for high-profile brands. She is also the granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors and posted the change.org petition calling for Adidas to break their ties with Ye.
“I am not particularly political or an activist, but I felt the need to post because my grandparents and family did not survive the horror of the Holocaust to sit by and watch this happen. The problem right now is the need to separate mental illness from antisemitism," she said.
The excuse that he is bipolar doesn’t justify anti-semitism has been another sentiment bandied about the internet.
"He is a fire starter as we saw in Los Angeles with the banners hung over the side of the highway proclaiming 'Kanye is right about the Jews.’ It’s irresponsible because what comes after is a firestorm, and it gives permission for people to join. Look at whom he went after. First, there was endorsing white supremacy, then claims George Floyd wasn't murdered. His speech is dangerous," she continued.
He also took stabs at Bernard Arnault at the Paris show. The rumors floating around say he more or less accused the executive of killing Virgil Abloh. Press agency, Lucien Pages, was also blindsided, having been hired just two days before to handle show arrangements for the international press. They have also severed ties with Ye stating “no intention of collaborating with the brand or any associated projects in the future.”
Sound familiar? The View talk show host Joy Behar noted in 2016, referring to the infamous fashion show, that he was behaving like Trump. His inflammatory remarks since the Paris show are eerily similar to Trump’s actions to incite followers leading up to the January 6 insurrections.
Fashion front-row photographer Stephane Feugere questioned fashion’s role in Kanye's downfall and disintegration of health in a now-deleted post.
"In defining fashion as a closed circle of journalists, we have to ask why they have waited so long," he said in a DM, pointing out that Kanye's followers were good for the press, whose business depends on likes and engagement.
His #kanyedontmatter post was a reaction to the media constantly needing to chase the buzz. He has watched the designer’s ego grow for the last 10 years.
"He has since (in 2020) been identified as bipolar, but we cannot avoid talking about his acute schizophrenia at this time. My post was simply to say the buzz was not helping his megalomania and illness," Feugere explained.
The photographer feels strongly about the importance of his oeuvre and his artistic contributions, including the boundary-breaking Yeezy sneakers, which he doesn't deny. "I'm more puzzled why the brands decided to take advantage of the visibility at all costs while claiming to be eco-conscious and inclusive but ready to do anything to break the internet. Even if it meant denying his illness and putting blinders on concerning his remarks."
He ponders the bigger meaning of the role of social networks when chaos is becoming the norm.
"If van Gogh were alive today and cut off his ear during a live stream on Instagram, would he have become the posthumously genius that he did or just be this crazy guy who cut off his ear?"
As the week unfolded, there were further incidents of Ye’s unraveling; hopefully he will seek treatment and those around him encourage this. Manhattan-based Jewish French Moroccan lawyer Jacob Sebag doesn’t think legal recourse is an option.
“Germany has done more than any other country to make amends for and apologize for the Holocaust. Their laws don't tolerate anti-semitism. He could try to sue Adidas for a breach of contract, but I don't think he would win. Brands have morality clauses, and his actions clearly broke this," he offered.
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