Creative Consultant Ian Connor Talks Working With Kanye West, 'Waves' and Wiz's #CoolPants
In advance of West's highly anticipated Yeezy Season Three presentation and 'Waves' album debut at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11, Billboard spoke with Connor about innovation, expression and teaching Kylie Jenner a few things about fashion.
Ian Connor is likely younger than you, and definitely cooler than you. Though only 22 years old, Connor is already the consultant for Kanye West’s creative team where he decides, based on his own signature style, what clothing is cool and what's not. With his bleach-blonde dreads, Pollock-esque smattering of tattoos, and cigarette-smoking snarl, Connor oozes the kind of confidence that comes with being young, hot and cosigned by some of the biggest artists in the game. "I’m for the kids," he says, "because they’re the ones that are going to influence the future more than anything."
With a devoted Instagram and Twitter following that exceeds 400K, Connor's self-proclaimed title as "The King of the Youth" isn't an unfair statement. His Insta account is an intentional collection of high/low: selfies in airport bathrooms, a tanning salon in a strip mall, hanging with A$AP Rocky, a fat stack of hundred-dollar bills. Raised in Atlanta, by way of New York and now in Los Angeles, Connor says he dropped out of high school to "learn from people" — a learning curve that has indeed been steep. Since then he's styled Wiz Khalifa, is close with designers like Off White's Virgil Abloh and at just 5'5", he's modeled on the runway and in print for Kanye's Yeezy fashion label.
But that kind of attention doesn't come without complications. Recently, Connor found himself smack in the middle of a Twitter feud between Khalifa, his former employer, and Kanye, his current boss and mentor. So when Connor tweeted, "Keep the Peace," he meant it. Though it might have seemed unclear, Kanye was making a gesture at detente when he complimented Wiz’s now infamous #coolpants and tweeted "in the lab with Ian Connor by the way." Because if Connor thinks you have good taste, then you have good taste. And at the end of the day, what else matters?
In advance of West's highly anticipated Yeezy Season 3 presentation and new album debut at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11, Billboard spoke with Connor about innovation, expression and teaching Kylie Jenner a few things about fashion.
What is it like being on Kanye’s creative team? What exactly does your role entail?
I’m his creative consultant, so I [advise] on the clothing and [give] my ideas as far as "this is right, this is wrong, this is cool, we should bring in this person, we should not f— with this person."
What kind of people are you bringing in?
I can’t really answer that, but it’s just my aesthetic — it’s pretty mishmash — if you know me, you know what I’m interested in.
Where were you when the recent Twitter feud between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa was happening?
I had just come back from Paris, like, the night before when I got a call to go to the studio when (Kanye’s) Wiz ordeal was going on. It was like, yo, you got business you gotta do, so literally I just had my Goyard bag and got on a plane.
What was it like being involved in the middle of that?
It didn’t really have an immediate effect on me. I used to be employed by Wiz, but that didn’t have anything to do with me necessarily — Wiz is Wiz and he was my previous friend and employer, but now I work for Kanye. You feel me? I don’t have anything directly against Wiz, and Kanye did what he needed to do for himself.
I think it seemed like I was in the middle of it, but in actuality I wasn’t. It wasn’t, like, I was feeding [Kanye] words like, "Yo, say this, say that." It’s shit that I would have said. You have to understand, me working for Kanye is like working for myself in the future. That’s the way I look at it. Everything he said, I would have said. So maybe that’s why it came across like I was telling Kanye what to say. Great minds think alike, I should say.
At the end there with the whole "cool pants" and "I'm in the lab with Ian Connor," do you think Kanye was trying to make peace?
Yeah, I guess he was saying that to cosign my styling creds. [Kanye] can say anything he wants negative against [Wiz] but he can’t really talk down on the style that I gave Wiz. #Wizcoolpants was [Kanye] being, like, "Yo, I love his style, therefore he loves my style — which is Wiz’s style."
Kanye also made a comment about how he’s not skinny and tall but he’s changing the way fashion works. Do you think you guys are changing the traditional direction of runway?
Of course! Completely! We’re innovators! We’re in the same field as other people but we give it our taste and our look and that really matters. People can hate and talk down on certain things, but at the end of the day, we’re making shit cooler, we’re making it better, and we’re making it more open-minded instead of the just the standard runway look, if that makes sense.
Runway looks are, like, hard, you feel me? I feel like it’s an art. Even if the show is shitty, it’s hard to decide what looks good and what doesn’t based on everything that’s kind of clustered together with some designers.You might be like, "Oh, I like this shirt," even if you didn’t like the outfit. But we’re giving it, like, a whole new wave — like how a show or how clothing is supposed to look. I guess that fits us and fits our immediate market or the people that we want our clothes to pertain to. Which is everyone.
What's the ideal person that you’re reaching out to? Is it kids, celebrities ...?
I reach out to kids. That’s my whole thing is, like, I reach out to the future. Like these celebrities, they’re already good. They’re standard for me. They already have their style and their people and at the end of the day everyone can switch up, but I’m more so for the kids because they’re the ones that are going to influence the future more than anything. That’s on my behalf. I can’t speak for anyone else.
Do you want them to feel better about not fitting this ideal of six feet tall and skinny?
Oh definitely, because everybody doesn’t look like that. Like me looking at a six-foot model with a long trench coat on or whatever, that doesn’t really have an effect on me. I know kids wouldn’t wear a long trench coat like that. You get what I’m saying? So it’s more about what fits you. And that tall model might not necessarily have the style that that small kid, or that fat kid, or that weird-looking girl with weird eyes or something like that will have. And that will actually change shit. So when you’re looking at people’s Instagram or photos it’s more like, “What does that person’s personal style have to offer?” So it might be that weirdo who’s influenced by the clothing in Yeezy Season Three and this collection or that collection and that influence will just make them go next-level.
Has Kanye been a mentor to you in that way that you’d like to be a mentor for these kids coming up?
Of course. Every day it’s like, as much as he feels I have to offer him, he has to offer me. I’m not a know-it-all, I’m just advanced for my age. That’s that. But as far as, like, how to conduct myself, like, as a business man how to conduct myself, that’s all based off of Kanye and Rocky. You have Rocky, who’s very political but he’s still himself, and then you have Kanye and he’s just straight up and speaks his mind and he’s going to get across what he sees inside his mind. It’s his world in his head and he brings that out. Whereas Rocky is more political. So yeah, Rocky and Kanye, I’m lucky to work for them. They’re also like family and on top of that my mentors.
Were you in the studio during the recording of Waves?
I’m in the studio, but as far, like, his album and all that, I don’t care to touch that subject. His album comes out when his album comes out.
You discuss the different ways Kanye and Rocky express themselves. Do you see fashion as an outlet for political and artistic expression?
With me, my style is my style. When I wake up, how I feel is how it get dressed. So it’s an expression for me. I can go somewhere and not say a word ,but they see my cool camo pants or either a t-shirt or a nice-ass cashmere sweater and that speaks for me. Fashion has always been a way of expressing myself without having to say much.
Do you have influence over your girlfriend's style?
Oh I definitely dress Madison (Connor's girlfriend and Instagram model), but I’m also teaching her. Like I give her options instead of just straightforward dressing her. I’ll lay out options and she picks what she’s likes on her own. She has a good eye for things.
Is that something that you do with your friends, too?
All of my friends, we all draw inspiration from each other. I’m certain on everything I wear, but it’s cool to have the outlook of your friends. Definitely not all the girls that I’m dating — like, I go the hardest for Madison because I have the most faith and trust in her. But anyone that I’m around, I don’t want them poorly dressed.
There are people in Kanye's circle, like Kylie Jenner, that you've been give credit for influencing. What's that like?
Yeah, as far as influencing Kylie's style and being direct with her style, I’ve been helping her. I steered her kind of toward a streetwear style. She’s more an athletic apparel-wearing girl, but sometimes I wouldn’t like to see Kylie in a full Adidas track suit with Jordans on ... like, that turns me off for certain reasons. So it’s like, “Nah, let’s do this, let’s do that, this will look good, this will look nice." And more so, I’m teaching her the history of what she’s wearing. So when Kylie has on a Supreme box logo or a Palace tri logo, she knows the history of it and she’s not just wearing something. She’s actually feeling the history of what she’s wearing. It’s somewhat of an emotional attachment to what she’s wearing.
So are you crazy, freaking out with the build-up to the MSG show?
Nah, I’m not freaking out. It all comes with ease.
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.