Fashion and politics have always been inextricably linked. Each show, each design, and each designer in a show exemplifies those two concepts. Probably the most well known example of this is the MET Gala, which celebrated wealth with themes like “Gilded Age” and sparked conversation as celebrities used the event to speak out against racism in fashion and politics. What happens, however, when the conversation revolves around someone who has such a cult following that all critical thought is removed? Looking up to someone is a difficult position, especially when that respect borders on idolization. This creates a halo effect, removing any flaws or faults. Probably the most relevant example of this is Kanye West.
Kanye West has been undergoing public episodes on his social media. However, the conversation around him is one of entertainment rather than concern. Love him or hate him, Kanye West has been an influential character for some time now. More recently this influence has been on his politics. This began during Trump’s presidency when we saw him wearing the “MAGA” hat and singing the praises of someone who had caused so much turmoil and harm to people. Even as West went on rants about his disbelief in slavery and anti-abortion speeches, he was flooded with comments of praise. Whether or not he is respected, he has created an environment in which he can do harmful things and be seen as brave. It’s called irony–it’s a show, not racist or misogynistic rhetoric. Devoting oneself to an artist to the point of idolizing them creates an environment in which they act as worthy of devotion.
Many have claimed that the service is controversial, but West stands by it, mixing his beliefs with fashion. He brought this Sunday Service to Paris Fashion Week in 2020. Until this show, West’s Service was only available to close family and friends. With his public support of guests such as Marilyn Manson, who has faced numerous allegations of sexual assault, the private services have sparked their own controversies. This Paris Fashion Week service, however, is more than just a fashion show and promotion of his designs. Kanye West takes advantage of the situation to spread his religious beliefs. He has tied Christianity to all aspects of his fashion line, with comments comparing him to Jesus flooding his Instagram. Not only in how he creates the pieces or the morals behind the business, but also in presentation and distribution. Purchasing his merchandise and attending his fashion shows entails buying into his beliefs. Not only the religious ones either.
West has recently come under fire for yet another Paris Fashion Week incident. The hidden catwalk featured a t-shirt with the words “White Lives Matter.” West and right-wing commentator Candace Owens both wore this shirt in addition to the models. The phrase “White Lives Matter” is used as a hate statement against Black Lives Matter. This show marked his return to the world of high fashion. Following this incident, West said in an unreleased interview clip that he would rather teach his kids about Hanukkah than Kwanza because “at least it would come with some financial engineering,” alluding to the anti-Semitic notion that Jewish people control the financial system. However, Elon Musk, who welcomed West to Twitter, wants to relax Twitter’s rules, so it’s unlikely that opinions such as these will remain unreleased clips for very long.
What was missing from this conversation? Recently, Kanye West was spotted sporting a “Kanye 2024” hat as a nod to his previous declarations that he intended to run for president. A claim that, clearly, did not go away. Kanye West uses fashion shows and his own clothing to create uproar. He relies on his supporters to continue praising him as a genius so that he can avoid any criticism. Many attempt to conceal these harmful claims by pointing to West’s history of bipolar disorder. Some have referred to him as a cult leader, and others have suggested that we show more empathy. But how much sympathy can we extend to a man before the lack of repercussions gets to his head and he goes beyond a Tweet, Instagram rant, or fashion show?