Adidas terminating its partnership with Kanye West is one of those once-in-a-decade fashion stories that manages to escape the close-knit industry’s bubble. A creative being ousted from a clothing company may not have gotten this much attention since John Galliano was fired from Christian Dior in 2011. (The Sun had published a shocking video of the designer on an anti-Semitic tirade.)
Two weeks ago, I predicted that the fashion industry would not cancel West. This was before CAA and Adidas cut ties to West, and before Gap announced it would no longer sell the Yeezy product that was languishing in the wake of its partnership ending. (Gap was promoting the apparel in email blasts even just last week.) But I remain unconvinced this is the last we will see of West in fashion, not just because almost no celebrity truly gets “canceled,” but because the halo effect of fashion prominence often outlasts public disgust.
Yeezy fashion shows—which were kicked off at Paris Fashion Week in 2011—were never a critical success. In fact, they were often logistical failures; in 2016, the New York Post called a Yeezy show “a total disaster,” citing high heels “practically disintegrate[ing]” while models walked in them and guests “trapped on buses” waiting for the show to start.
But none of that stopped the fashion industry from supporting West.
Because from the instant success of his first Yeezy sneaker with Nike – which sold out almost immediately after it came out in 2009 – retailers could see that shutting out the likes of West was simply unwise for business. After the Nike partnership collapsed, West moved to Adidas, which launched its collaboration in 2015.
And that partnership was big business for Adidas. In 2020, sales of Yeezy sneakers totaled nearly $1.7 billion, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg. These figures surely influenced Gap’s subsequent decision to get into business with West, even though, at that point, he already had a history of controversial statements. (In 2018, for example, he called slavery “a choice” and hugged President Trump while wearing a MAGA hat, which he said made him “feel like Superman.”)
This year, days before West’s Paris Fashion Week Yeezy show was staged, breathless articles were printed in fashion publications about how a “surprise” show would include just 50 guests. That those guests were basically comprised of fashion bigwigs including Balenciaga designer Demna, Anna Wintour, John Galliano, and Alexandre Arnault was as disappointing as it was unsurprising that West used this as another opportunity to provoke. He showed up wearing a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt (a slogan the Anti-Defamation League calls racist), the conservative commentator Candace Owens by his side. This kicked off a series of social media posts in which West ridiculed Vogue Global Fashion Editor-at-Large Gabriella Karefa-Johnson’s appearance; described a meeting with her that he said was filmed by Wintour’s friend Baz Luhrmann; and descended into an anti-Semitism tail-spin that has been condemned by celebrities including his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League.
Inside the fashion industry, loyalties to creative partners are expected to be fierce and unshakable, which helps explain why individual downfalls are often viewed, within the industry at least, as unfair. West will likely face permanent damage to his reputation as a result of his recent actions and statements, particularly because—unlike John Galliano—he has not shown public remorse.
Though Galliano is still reviled by many fashion fans, it’s worth noting that he worked with the Anti-Defamation League, which then made public statements asking the world to forgive him. Eager to do so was Wintour herself. Sources told me when I was reporting my book, ANNA: The Biography, that it was Wintour who called Parsons to try to get Galliano a teaching gig. (The school was prepared to do so but canceled its plans after students protested.)
And note that the response from fashion companies regarding West in recent days has been mostly corporate and impersonal. It has come in the form of statements from Kering, which owns Balenciaga, Adidas, and Gap. British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful was one of fashion’s few leading creatives to personally comment, calling West’s T-shirt “insensitive” in the New York Times. Wintour’s reactions were reported by “Page Six,” which cited a Vogue spokesperson as the source of this information: That the magazine had “no intention” of working with West in the future. “[A]n insider” was quoted as saying, about Wintour: “She has made it very clear inside Vogue that Kanye is no longer part of the inner circle.”
I’m not hearing that people in the industry think that what’s happening to West now is unfair, which is different from the slew of fashion editors I interviewed for my book who expressed disbelief at what happened to photographers, including former Vogue favorite Mario Testino, who were accused of sexual misconduct. Many photographers in that cohort, like Greg Kadel, continue to work. Testino is still booking likely lucrative campaign work from Dolce & Gabbana and, going by Instagram likes and comments, retains support from prominent designers and stylists.
Controversial figures thrive in fashion. That is not new. What’s new is the pressure on the industry to denounce them. And even that is uneven. Karl Lagerfeld, who repeatedly expressed disdain for fat people and said in 2017, regarding German Chancellor Angela Merkel bringing Syrian refugees into the country, “One cannot — even if there are decades between them — kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place.” Next spring, Wintour’s Met Gala will open an exhibit honoring Lagerfeld. It is underwritten by Chanel and Fendi, a brand owned by LVMH.
West may be out of fashion for now. But a comeback—even if he fails to attain his former industry status—seems practically guaranteed.