The name Kanye West is iconic (albeit controversial) and oftentimes the only thing we as lovers of “the culture” need to hear to command our attention. The recently almost bankrupt cultural phenomenon has emerged from the flames a billionaire to the tune of $1.3 billion as first reported by Forbes (he says it is actually $3.3 billion), bolstered by his coveted sneaker and sports/streetwear brand Yeezy. Ye’ also has his cash holdings and assets like stocks, property and land to thank for adding him to the list of 2,155 billionaires globally. Are we surprised? No, in fact we are surprised that this status did not come sooner. Kanye West has had an illustrious and trend setting career spanning two decades, as a musical genius, producing maverick, fashion icon, label owner and overall industry disrupter.*
For us, Kanye West’s influence in fashion alone, specifically streetwear a $263 billion valued industry, verifies this new status. If influence was a currency Mr West would have been a billionaire long ago, and we’re only talking fashion here.
Let’s take a look at the roster of talented individuals that have passed through his tutelage/have been a part of his design entourage and now stand as giants in their own right:
CEO of ubiquitous streetwear brand Off-White which he founded in 2013 known not for being the first, but one of the best brands to successfully (i.e. the crowd-splitting, yet trendsetting industrial belt which we saw done a million times over) merge streetwear and high-fashion, having everyone from Beyoncé to Leonardo Dicaprio wearing the brand’s designs. He then capsized the industry when it was announced he would be the new creative director for Louis Vuitton’s Menswear, a monumental and historic fete and a position he has held since March 2018. A trained architect, he got his start in fashion with an internship at Fendi alongside Kanye West in 2009, with whom he was joined at the hip from the streets of Florence at Pitti Uomo https://jendaya.co.uk/2020/03/01/pitti-uomo-2020/ to Paris Fashion Week and beyond.**
As current Vice President of Sneakers & Men’s Footwear at Versace, Salehe shows millions of black men around the world that they can truly remain authentic and scale the heights within the world of high-fashion. With dedication, working smart and always being prepared he went from stints at DD172 (Damon Dash’s – [the guy who discovered and signed Kanye West] shoe venture, to Cole Haan and Yeezy – where he started working closely with Kanye West as footwear designer. He then initially started as just the Head of Sneaker Design at Versus Versace (the brand’s diffusion line) before snagging his current all-encompassing role where he broke the industry and re-introduced the brand with the ‘Chain Reaction’ sneakers, seen on everyone from 2 Chains to Gigi Hadid, he continues to make the brand’s presence known in Men’s footwear. For the inspiring retelling of his journey and how he transitioned through his career listen to the below episode of ‘The Business of HYPE’.
The God fearing luxury fashion and sneaker designer let his art imitate his life principles with the naming and ethos of his brand Fear of God in 2012. The sport-luxe brand redefines everyday essentials, curated with unique designs and craftmanship wrapped in a comfortable ease and free-spirited sensibility that is weaved into the brand’s DNA. Lorenzo is the son of previous MLB player Jerry Manuel and started off as Corporate Sponsorship Manager for the LA Dodgers then into Events Management with his successful ‘JL Nights’ series and eventually designer where Kanye West called to see his first collection and eventually offered him a job at DONDA (link), designing the tour merch for the Yeezus album. Lorenzo is an eclectic talent who loves everything from Kurt Cobain to The Migos and you can tell from his designs. His got his first independent big break designing tour merch for Justin Bieber’s Purpose Tour. He has since gone on to have exclusive deals with Vans, Nike- where FoG have created their own unique silhouettes (that sell out as soon as they drop collection after collection) and most recently the collaboration collection with Zegna https://jendaya.co.uk/2020/03/13/exploring-the-dichotomy-zegna-fear-of-god/. You can see his designs worn by the likes of John Mayer and Big Sean and in the outrageously stylish wardrobe of Kenya Barris in the show ‘blackAF’. ***
British born Ross is a luxury streetwear designer and LVMH Prize finalist that launched his men swear label A-Cold-Wall in 2015 to the tune of $1.7 million in revenue by 2017. A graphic designer/illustrator by education, he caught the eye of Virgil Abloh in 2013 who hired him as his assistant at Off-White and Yeezy after seeing his work at his first brand ‘2wnt4’. A-Cold-Wall mimics and exemplifies Ross’ upbringing in the British working class of South London and beautifully clashes the lines between pristine attention to detail with unexpected silhouettes. The brand has over 100 stockists globally and has had capsule collections with the likes of Nike and Oakley. Fans include the likes of Lebron James to Winnie Harlow.****
A man of many talents: a DJ, creative director, content creator and designer Preston initially worked as a marketing specialist and social media director for Nike before catching the eye of Kanye West, working with him as his Art Director and consultant for the albums ‘Yeezus’ and ‘The Life of Pablo’. His namesake brand Heron Preston had it’s debut menswear show at Paris Fashion Week in FW2019 to much fanfare and excitement and it included the iconic printed T-shirts and hoodies which the brand is known for but also introduced an array of practical outerwear such as utility vests, windbreakers and puffer jackets trimmed and stamped in citrus orange, all made with what seemed like parachute nylon with cotton and jersey accents. One of the big breaks for the brand came with designing Justin Timberlake’s tour merchandise for ‘Man of the Woods’ in 2018 and can be seen on the likes of Odell Beckham Jr and Demi Lovato.
Streetwear designer Crawley was initially manager for Kanye West and executive at his label G.O.O.D. Music. He eventually caught the design bug and launched his brand Just Don. The first opportunity for the brand was a big one, in 2015 Just Don redesigned the Jordan 2s and in 2017 redesigned the sneaker for women and in 2018 released an exclusive capsule collection with Nicki Minaj for her ‘Queen’ album. The brand’s reach goes beyond apparel and footwear, as seen with their design collaboration with Rémy Martin. Just Don has become the go-to brand for logo revamps and merchandise for many NBA, MLS and NHL teams, most recognisable are the baseball caps with the snakeskins straps and bills and the logo-centred basketball shorts. Supporters of the brand include Jay-Z and Rihanna.
Kanye West’s barber of 19 years is a multi-faceted man who firstly puts a spotlight on the cultural importance of the profession and the special relationship between a black man and his barber. His importance is exemplified through the naming of the unforgettable debut sneakers West designed with Louis Vuitton in 2009 – the LV Jaspers. Ibn stepped out on his own in 2012 to create his namesake sneaker in collaboration with Diamond Supply Co and in 2018 fully launched his own clothing and sneaker line Stratica International, with his first release giving us a reworked modern and trendy update of the vulcanized shoe. He has gone from strength to strength and in 2019 released his first major collaboration with Converse redesigning the Pro Leather model. Fans include rappers Travis Scott and Common.
Kanye West recently donated $2 million to assist the families of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbery and Breona Taylor whose murders have sparked the long overdue revolt of solidarity of the world for black lives. He has also set up a college fund for Floyd’s daughter*
Let us see if Virgil will overcome the brewing backlash which came to a boil over the past few weeks regarding his now clarified comments concerning the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests and his donation. We would like to see Virgil visibly represent for the “culture” with more black creatives in his team, after-all we are the culture he draws inspiration from**
Fear of God recently released a special capsule T-shirt to raise money and commemorate the life of George Floyd, a joint effort with other designers: Off-White, Pyer Moss, Just Don, Melody Ehsani, Union Los Angeles, Noah Clothing, Awake and Denim Tears***
Samuel Ross recently announced the 11 winners of his ‘Grant for Independent Black Businesses’ across 10 categories, to support those who need assistance during the current global lockdown period and highlight their talents. Perfectly offset with business’s globally standing in solidarity with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, showing how to really show support by “opening your purse”****