The tenure of Ye—née Kanye West—in his creative partnership with Gap has been one of the most fascinating chapters in recent fashion history. It has extended into album listening parties and a wild high-low collaboration with Balenciaga’s creative director, Demna. When Kim Kardashian, Ye, and his now ex-girlfriend Julia Fox were gallivanting around both coasts in Balenciaga topped with the rapper’s YZY Gap puffer, it brought us celebrity culture’s first costume-designed divorce
Gap was long Ye’s dream—he worked there as a teenager, and in 2015 professed he’d like to be “the Steve Jobs of the Gap”—and the artist’s obsessive standards and rotating cast of collaborators have brought us, in the year and half since he took the job, a boxy hoodie and an outrageous puffer. Both these pieces, months after their release, continue to dominate online discourse as few fashion products do. In January, Ye announced he was partnering with longtime friend Demna, the newly mononymous creative director of Balenciaga, for Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga. Still, the release of two articles of clothing over the past 18 months felt like a drip when the world expected a firehose.
This morning, though, Ye’s output suddenly quadrupled: His first drop of pieces designed in tandem with Demna arrived online at yeezygap.com. (Incidentally, Ye’s Donda 2 listening party was held last night in Miami.) The eight pieces, mostly in cropped but oversized silhouettes, include logo T-shirts, one of which purports to be seamless; a long-sleeved tee; a sweatshirt in smoggy gray; an oversized stonewashed, frayed denim jacket and matching jeans; and a pair of disarmingly anonymous sweatpants. A dove skims over the back of several garments, which “represents an unnamed hope for the future,” per an accompanying press release.
The clothes, as the release explains, are “timeless silhouettes translated through the lens of Ye and Demna’s shared vision of utilitarian design.” In other words: a dystopian capsule wardrobe of freaked basics.
A range of images shared on Instagram suggests that more—and more weirdness—is to come: wader boots that echo the enormous Red Wing waders Ye has stomped around in for the past two months; a silvery cinch-waist jumpsuit; a swishy gray anorak and matching pants; plus, leather (or leather-esque) pants, boots, and gloves. And, of course, that big black puffer, which appears even more ridiculously ominous with this palette of pieces.
In these collab-happy times, it’s easy to feel cynical about a project like this. But its ambitions are fascinating, and despite the dramatics of the extremely online Ye, neither the fashion-curious public nor industry insiders can seem to look away. (Videos of people trying on the puffer—which has a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants quality that makes it look absolutely different on every wearer—have become a staple on TikTok.)
Ye’s relationship with Demna doesn’t really have a precedent in fashion; they are longtime friends, with Ye one of the first public patrons of Demna’s first brand, Vetements, and Demna allegedly worked on early seasons of Yeezy. But they also egg each other on as creatives and public figures, with each serving as muse, interpreter, and whisperer for the other. Their friendship has ensured that high fashion has never been so present in our everyday lives as it has under Demna’s Balenciaga, which presents the mundanities of wardrobe staples as somehow strange and exquisite.
Ye’s mission at the Gap—and at least part of the reason why he wanted this job instead of, say, gunning for a big luxury house appointment—is that the brand’s price point and global reach might allow him to influence fashion the way his albums changed music. He seems to be after a true democratization of fashion, a thrilling little phrase that’s thrown around a lot but is essentially a pipe dream when luxury products are only increasing in price.
Ye’s goal is a total aesthetic reset of the order Steve Jobs and Jony Ive unleashed with the design of the iPhone, applying the high design reserved for more exclusive objects to something intended to be ubiquitous; Ye imagines a not-so-distant future in which the Hanes V-neck is usurped by his beefy cropped Gap tee. Already, that puffer jacket, which references the pervy couture of Charles James as much as the oversized shapes of 1990s East Coast hip-hop style, has solidified the puffer as the defining garment of our era, subsuming the hoodie and T-shirt as the piece any big-shot designer must master and every consumer, whether they’re a Moncler gal or a Patagonia stan, must own.
Will this work? Call me crazy, but I have a hunch it will. Recently, I was walking around the airport (which, filled with people choosing comfort above all else, is really a kind of global bazaar of personal style at its most essential), and I realized just how many people had on his Yeezy sneakers. Those sneakers are perhaps the only fashion items in history that look as good with Victoria’s Secret Pink sweatpants as they do with vintage Margiela. For someone who courts controversy and chaos, Ye’s fashion designs are done in the currency of the banal: T-shirts, sneakers, sweatpants, puffers. What if he actually reinvents the wheel?