Kanye vs. Tom Ford: Clash of the Fashion Titans

Kanye West Yeezy Season 4 NYFW Runway - Getty - H 2016
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Kanye West Yeezy Season 4 NYFW Runway - Getty - H 2016

The two multi hyphenates battled it out on day one of New York Fashion Week with dueling, entertainment-fueled presentations.

It was the clash of the multi-hyphenate fashion titans at New York Fashion Week on Wednesday, with rapper-designer Kanye West showing his Adidas Yeezy Season 4 collection on the grounds of a former smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island, and director-designer Tom Ford presenting his runway show hours later in the former Four Seasons restaurant.

What a culture clash it was, too, going from Kanye’s Roosevelt Island art piece (conceived with help from Vanessa Beecroft), to Ford’s Oscar party-style show. The day was a study in contrasts between fashion’s high and low, runway and street. The one unifying theme? Celebrity.

Kanye’s show was live-streamed on Tidal, the artist-owned music streaming service founded by Jay Z, of which Kanye is a founding member. There were rumors that he would use the fashion show to drop a new album, like he did last season, but he didn't.

The Kardashian-Jenners dutifully sat front row, playing their roles in selling one of the family brands, wearing Yeezy tube dresses and crop tops. Working the social media angle, Kim Kardashian had already modeled Kanye’s key runway piece on her Instagram the night before — thigh high, see-through boots. 

Pharrell, Desiigner, Russell Westbrook and more were on hand to watch the hourlong extravaganza, which started with a group of models in formation on the grass, dressed in various shades of Spandex, in what looked like a Spanx party. Eventually, a proper runway show began, featuring covetable street wear staples, including oversized bombers, camo flak jackets, slouchy sweat shorts and tube dresses. The only mystery? The surprising lack of sneakers, considering they are Yeezy’s bread-and-butter. 

Decent clothes aside, the presentation raised eyebrows — and concerns. It was late, as in nearly two hours late, leaving guests crowded behind barricades in the afternoon heat. After the presentation began, the models suffered even more; some passed out. Another hobbled so badly in her boots on the final walk, it was like watching someone being tortured. Finally, Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Bruce Pask came to her rescue and helped her along.

Was it intentional? Were we all part of some sort of twisted psychological experiment testing the limits to fame? How much waiting, fainting and torturous heels would the fashion crowd withstand in the name of Kanye?

In the end, it seemed self-indulgent and unnecessary. Any artistic message was muddled in the execution. (The whole journey, start to finish, was five hours out of a busy day.) Even a few of Kanye’s close confidants looked bored.

Cut to midtown at cocktail hour. Ford set up his show to mimic an Oscar party, complete with a red carpet, and a seasoned Golden Globes vet working 22 cameras to film the runway show for a live stream at TomFord.com, moving seamlessly from runway to reaction shots from the crowd.

Hollywood turned out in full force, including Rita Wilson, Neil Patrick Harris, Cindy Crawford and Jon Hamm. Not just there to party; many seemed to grasp the enormity of Ford’s leap with this show; he’s trying what’s known as ‘see now, buy now,’ meaning that the clothes shown on the runway Wednesday night are available for sale right now, not five months from now, which has been the norm in the fashion system. 

The event was lovely, from the smoked-salmon appetizers, to the runway-show dessert. Instead of being held outside for hours behind barricades, all 180 guests were treated like celebrities, wined and dined, too. A lesson in class. 

After dinner, the runway show began. The collection was sultry, sophisticated and it purred with lots of leopard spots. What was different than in past TF seasons is that the clothes didn’t seem to be trying so hard; they were more in service to the woman wearing them than the cinematic runway moment. 

Don’t get me wrong; there was drama; a backless black gown slung with an oversized gold chain, for example, was pure ecstasy. But the hard edges had been smoothed out, which is appropriate for a collection that’s intended to be consumer-facing. If one had means, she might cherry pick a cognac leather top with ruched sleeves, a tweed skirt with leather tabs at the waist, a burnt orange sequin blouson dress, or even a velvet cage belt. This was Ford at his most approachable. 

Though he may have enlisted the support of his talented friends, Ford is adamant that he keeps his two worlds, fashion and film, separate. He premiered his latest movie, Nocturnal Animals over the weekend in Toronto, but none of his clothes were in the film, and his runway show wasn't an ad for it, either. 

Of course, he was still using celebrity to sell clothes, just like Kanye. But there’s a difference between leveraging that interest and exploiting it.