REPORTED BY: INGRID SCHMIDT/BILLBOARD
West also referred to Yeezy as “the Apple of apparel” and discussed his new sustainable “seed-to-sew” approach in Wyoming, a failed LVMH-Yeezy deal, and his domed housing debacle.
During the fifth annual Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York on Thursday (Nov. 7), Kanye West surprised the crowd by showing up for a panel discussion along with Yeezy head footwear designer Steven Smith, in their first public outing together. As they unveiled the new Yeezy sneaker, partly made from an eco-friendly algae fiber, the 42-year-old musician-entrepreneur proclaimed: “Yeezy is the Apple of apparel.”
Then, in form, he dropped a load of shock-and-awe news — thoughts of legally changing his name to Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West for a year, a new Cody, Wyoming, Yeezy headquarters, the company’s goal to bring manufacturing to the U.S., and how an LVMH-Yeezy deal was pulled years before his friend Virgil Abloh was named creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton last year — a move that he alludes was a slap in the face.
On a 2024 Presidential Run
“When I run for President in 2024,” West began, interrupted by an outbreak of laughter in the audience. “What y’all laughing at? We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk. When you see headlines saying Kanye’s crazy — one in three African Americans are in jail and all the celebrities are in jail also because they can’t say nothing, they got no opinion, they’re so scared!”
On Dad Shoes
“They call him the dad of the dad’s shoes,” said West of Smith, who formerly worked everywhere from New Balance, Reebok, Nike and FILA and developed the silhouette before its recent style revival. His first design for Yeezy “sold out in 6.5 minutes,” noted Smith. “We were before the movement, the resurgence of the dad craze,” said West. “And there was a photograph of me wearing a really big version of the shoe that we showed in the season 5 [Yeezy] fashion show. And the paparazzi is great sometimes, because they caught me wearing this shoe a week before the Balenciaga show that had the triple S [sneakers] in it.”
On An LVMH-Yeezy Deal That Fell Through
Speaking of his long-time friendship with Virgil Abloh, appointed creative director of menswear at Louis Vuitton last year, making history as the first African American to hold that position in the house’s 164-year history, West revealed that the appointment was a blow, following his own deal with LVMH years earlier that fell through. After Kim Kardashian West was robbed at gunpoint in Paris on Oct. 3, 2016, and he was hospitalized for exhaustion, West says that Bernard Arnault told him, “We’re going to back your line.” And then West received a call from Arnault’s son, Alexandre, notifying him that they had pulled the deal.
Fast forward to 2018. “Bernard Arnault could have picked anyone he wanted to be the head of Louis Vuitton and who was it? And as I got on that flight, [to Virgil’s first show in Paris in June 2018] I knew I had to go. Because if I didn’t go and give Virgil that hug, who was I then? No one knew that the deal had been pulled. No one knew that that was the beginning of me going to the hospital. No one knew how this game is.”
On Design Rules
Speaking of their design collaboration, Smith said, “The thing I love about Kanye is the rules are all gone. Everything we’ve every done has just been smashed to pieces and we think about things totally different. It’s liberating creativity like I’ve never experienced before. We’re not pawns behind a desk where it’s pre-programmed. With Ye it’s just like ‘Go!’” West’s only parameters are no laces and no stitching. “I don’t want to go to Sunday Service and have to retie my shoes seven times in the middle of the service!” said West. “We took the word ‘try’ out of it and we just ‘do’ like Yoda says!”
On Sustainability, Wyoming Headquarters
“We moved the [Yeezy] headquarters to Cody, Wyoming,” said West, adding that the building restrictions are “way lax,” thereby allowing him more freedom to build and to think. Comparing the rural location to the Wright brothers living in Dayton, Ohio, he said, “They needed a place to think or we wouldn’t have flight today; if the world only knew the capabilities of what we have, the press can get out of the way…”
West owns a 4,000-acre ranch in Cody, which he reportedly purchased for $14 million in September, along with other properties. “We’re going to be farming and going seed to sew and have our own cotton, hydroponic farm, hemp farm, and wheat farm…and getting into how we can have less impact with the dyes, because our colors are a big signature of the brand. But also dyeing is one of the main things that’s impacting the planet in the fashion industry, so just being responsible from A to Z. Within the next two years, our goal is to bring the manufacturing back to America, South America, and North America and bring it back stateside, also to present jobs for people back here.”
Pulling the latest Yeezy sneaks out of a bag, while explaining that the material included a new algae fiber “harvested from ponds so eco concerns are intersecting with what we do,” Smith said, “These are the future of Yeezy. These were just made in Atlanta yesterday in the U.S., pre-production. … We’re going to bring jobs back here and we’re going to make Yeezys in America.”
On Economic Empowerment
Last month, Forbes estimated that Yeezy will bring in over $1.5 billion in sales in 2019 and has recently referred to him as a billionaire. But in June, the publication ranked him fourth amongst the world’s wealthiest hip-hop artist, with an estimated net worth of $240 million. But he’s over the “millionaire” hump and wants to be acknowledged.
“Martin Luther King didn’t get killed because he had a dream; he had something else he was gong to talk about. He talked about black empowerment, economic empowerment,” said West. “When I did Forbes, I showed them a $890 million receipt and they still didn’t say ‘billionaire.’ They don’t want us to know that we can buy land; they don’t want us to have the 100 percent ownership [that] I have at Yeezy. …When people say it’s crass to call yourself a billionaire, I say I might legally change my name to Christian Genius Billionaire Kanye West for a year until y’all understand exactly what it is… It will be on the license plate.”
On The Teardown of his Domed Homes
West owns 312 acres in Calabasas, on which he built a series of domed housing structures, reportedly to serve as low-income housing, until the county ordered him to tear them down in September.
“One of the domes was 10 feet too high. We were just testing it and we were going to take it down anyway,” said West, expressing his frustration that local officials went to the media before working it out with him directly. “Homes are a big representation of classes and separation and protectionism. The idea that somehow this one little fence can make the difference, this gated fence can make the difference. To say this person hasn’t made it in life [and] I’ve made it in life to live behind this gate right here!”
He continued: “The most healing medication possible is love. The greatest thing we as humans have is each other. We need to be close to each other, but industry has designed cities where the house has to be a certain amount of distance from the school or your job, so that you have to get in car or take public transportation. The world is set up to make us think that we need to have less children when children is the greatest thing and the closest thing to God that we have. So we have to reengineer the cities!”