At last week’s Vanity Fair Oscars after-party, Kim Kardashian-West arrived in a breathtaking dress, designed by the late Lee Alexander McQueen for his spring/summer 2003 collection.
The dress, made from cascading layers of gauzy, tattered silk, clung to her body perfectly, despite having debuted on a runway over 17 years ago. It is one of two ever produced. The other one resides in the private collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Behind Kim stood her date, Kanye West, in a black leather suit and tan boots.
For some reason, Kanye fans rejoiced. The subdued (translation: boring) ensemble was a rare glimpse of the elusive “old Kanye,” a creature his most stubborn devotees will insist is totally superior to the current model.
On this particular evening, he took us back to a Kanye who was more slim, suave and stable, last seen around 2014. This was the same Ye who inspired so many men to pick up their first pair of ripped skinny jeans from Zara or faux-suede chelsea boots from ASOS.
Kanye enthusiasts applauded this return to form. As one member of Miami University’s SneakGeekz sneaker club proclaimed at their meeting last Tuesday: “Kanye is back!”
His fellow Geekz nodded in agreement.
The SneakGeekz are a small, close-knit community of Miami’s most-intense sneaker and streetwear obsessives. They know their shoes inside and out. And, coincidentally, they know the universe of Kanye West to the same degree.
Junior biology major Tyler Chinsky is the president of SneakGeekz. His mind jumps straight to Ye when he recalls his beginnings as a sneakerhead.
“Honestly, it was just Kanye,” he said. “The shoes that really got me into it were the Black [Yeezy Boost] 750s, in I think winter 2015.”
After he saw the rare kicks on Kanye, he was hooked.
“From then I just, like, wanted to get more.”
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For many young men like Chinsky, the frenzy around Yeezy sneakers served as the gateway down the streetwear rabbit hole. Kanye’s personal style also played a huge role, documented through thousands of paparazzi snapshots. For at least a decade, men’s fashion magazines, Instagram pages and blogs have obsessed over Kanye’s wardrobe, documenting every little change.
This coincided with the rise of his Yeezy clothing brand, which sells comfy athleisure staples alongside sneakers for less-than-comfy prices. This all created a halo of hype around Kanye, cementing his place as a god of 2010s street fashion (as he proclaims in his 2013 song “I Am A God.”)
At the SneakGeekz meeting, Mr. West comes up about once every five minutes, but not always to such fanfare. The Oscars fit was merely a wrinkle in time – a fleeting ghost of Kanye past. The new Ye is definitely still behind the wheel, and when it comes to the product currently coming from the Yeezy brand, the Geekz aren’t so impressed.
At one point during their meeting last week, Chinsky displayed an article on the projector screen, reporting on the release date of three new earth-toned colorways of the Yeezy Boost 350 sneaker. They let out a groan, muttering sarcastically to each other.
“Kanye doing earth tones again? Who could have predicted?”
This jaded Yeezy cynicism plagues sneakerheads worldwide. While Kanye introduced many of them into the sneaker game, they’re sick of seeing the same old thing from Kanye. The numbers show this as well. The resale prices on some Yeezy shoes now dip below their $220 retail value when they used to reach well over $1500. The hype is clearly simmering down.
Much of this could be due to the global rise in the menswear market. Young, style-savvy men like Chinsky aren’t solely focused on what they put on their feet anymore. To him, fashion has become a meaningful form of self-expression.
Although he started out looking up to Kanye as a style icon, it’s clear he’s now focused on developing a personal style unique to him.
For people who are new to men’s fashion, Chinsky urges them to find something “that actually fits your style, not just the image that you’re going for.”
Mr. West may never be the streetwear deity he was throughout the last decade. As we trudge on into the 2020s, streetwear-heads around the world will continue to grow weary of Kanye’s vision, as they find themselves attracted to newer, rarer drops.
But every once in awhile, it’ll happen like it did at the Oscars. The smoke will clear for a moment, the sneaky face of old Kanye will shine through, and they’ll remember why they fell in love with the game in the first place.